The SOS Signs of Suicide Prevention Program (SOS) is a universal, school-based depression awareness and suicide prevention program designed for middle-school (ages 11–13) or high-school (ages 13–17) students. The goals are to 1) decrease suicide and suicide attempts by increasing student knowledge and adaptive attitudes about depression, 2) encourage personal help-seeking and/or help-seeking on behalf of a friend, 3) reduce the stigma of mental illness and acknowledge the importance of seeking help or treatment, 4) engage parents and school staff as partners in prevention through “gatekeeper” education, and 5) encourage schools to develop community-based partnerships to support student mental health.
The SOS curriculum includes lessons on raising awareness of depression and suicide, helping students identify the warning signs of depression in themselves and others, identifying risk factors associated with depression and suicidal ideation, and using a brief screening for depression and/or suicidal behavior. Students are taught to seek help using the ACT (Acknowledge, Care, Tell) technique. This technique teaches students to acknowledge when there are signs of a problem in themselves or a peer, show that you care and are concerned about getting help, and tell a trusted adult. Upon completion of the program, students are given response cards to indicate if they would like to speak to a trusted adult about themselves or a friend.
Both the middle and high school programs provide age-appropriate, educational DVDs for school staff to play for students. The middle school video, Time to ACT, informs students of the ACT message and includes vignettes that show 1) the right and wrong ways to help someone exhibiting signs of depression, 2) a group of students discussing various mental health topics, and 3) a student interview with a school counselor. The high school video, Friends for Life, informs students of the ACT message and includes dramatizations of depressed or suicidal teens and the right and wrong ways to help them. The video also includes interviews with teens who are in treatment for depression and previous suicide attempts, showing them with their friends and family, and with school counselors. The program includes a video, Training Trusted Adults, to engage staff, parents, or community members in the program’s objectives and prevention efforts.