Reducing Suicide-Related Stigma through Peer-to-Peer School-Based Suicide Prevention Programming

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Youth suicide rates have consistently risen over the past decade, and stigma related to mental health may create a barrier to young people seeking help. Schools are a common intercept point for mental health and suicide prevention programming.

In the latest Children & Schools, a journal co-published by NASW and Oxford University Press, an article looks at the issue of schools and youth suicide prevention.

Hope Squad, a school-based, peer-to-peer, suicide prevention program, uses trained and mentored students nominated by their peers to perform intentional outreach with fellow students. When a Hope Squad member detects a mental health or suicide crisis in a peer, they alert a trusted adult. Researchers employed a cohort, wait-list–control, cross-sectional survey design. The program recruited more than 3,400 students from nine schools—five with Hope Squads and four without—to observe differences in student-body suicide-related stigma. At the end of the academic year, there was significantly lower stigma in Hope Squad schools versus those without the program.

Findings suggest that a peer-to-peer, school-based, suicide prevention program may reduce stigmatizing attitudes related to suicide. Next steps include a randomized controlled trial to identify changes in help-seeking and similar protective factors.

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Authors:

  • Jennifer L. Wright-Berryman, PhD, associate professor of social work, College of Allied Health Sciences, University of Cincinnati.
  • Devyn Thompson, MSW, social work therapist, Mindfully, Cincinnati, OH, USA.
  • Robert J. Cramer, PhD, professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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The journal Social Work is a benefit of NASW membership. It is available online or, at a member’s request, in print. Children & Schools, Health & Social Work and Social Work Research are available by subscription at a discounted rate for NASW members, either online or in print. You can find out more about the journals and subscriptions at this link.