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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 24. Suicide, its symptoms, and causes are often difficult subjects for adolescents and teens to discuss. But these are conversations that must be had. As the Vanderbilt School of Medicine states in its evaluation of a suicide prevention curriculum, when it comes to preventing youth suicide, knowledge is empowering. It gives students the information they need in order to make positive choices.
Through lessons in Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, and Math, suicide prevention and awareness can be fully integrated into school curriculum. When students receive a wide scope of information on suicide prevention, they are better able to recognize warning signs, seek out resources, and communicate their needs (or the needs of a friend) in order to ask for help. The lessons below provide a cross-disciplinary approach to teaching suicide prevention and awareness.
Grades 5 – 8
Children in grades 5 – 8 face many unique difficulties, including drops in self-esteem, increasing academic pressure, bullying, disappointment and rejection. These and other factors can contribute to negative or suicidal thoughts. Age-appropriate lessons on suicide prevention can be invaluable, giving them the skills they need to better manage what they’re experiencing and the information they need to ask for help.
“The Connection Game” – Serving as a review of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s Mental Units of Instruction: Suicide Prevention curriculum, this game prompts student teams to answer questions about the terms/vocabulary they’ve learned throughout the curriculum.
Lights! Camera! Action! – Using what they’ve learned through the WDPI’s curriculum, student teams make a short film based on the terms they’re given to show they’re understanding of what they’ve learned about suicide and prevention.
Helping Friends Who Are Suicidal or Depressed – In this lesson, students learn how to recognize signs of depression and suicide, how to communicate these signs to others, and how to be good listeners.
Romeo and Juliet – In this lesson, students read “Romeo and Juliet” and then discuss themes from the play that are relevant today, including suicide, teenage rebellion, teenage love, etc.
In the Mix – In this lesson from PBS, students start by watching “Depression: On the Edge.” Next, they are presented with information about core categories, such as Facts on Suicide, Suicide Myths, Verbal Signs of Suicide, and more. Students, then, read stories about fictional teens to assess what actions should be taken in order to help them, e.g. “What’s Going On? Latosha’s Story” and Answers to Latosha’s Story.
S.O.S.—Get Into the ACT – Students watch a DVD, “S.O.S.—Get into the ACT” and fill out a worksheet in order to learn the essential suicide prevention skill, A.C.T. – Acknowledge the problem. Care—let the person know you care. Tell a responsible adult.
Breaking the Silence for Middle School – Designed to teach young people about mental illness, this lesson uses stories/poems, discussion questions, a PowerPoint presentation, and game to teach adolescents about mental illnesses such as major depression and bipolar disorder.
A Promise for Tomorrow – Life – This five-lesson curriculum provides a comprehensive education in suicide prevention.
Look, Listen, Link – One of the only suicide prevention programs geared specifically toward middle school-age children, this curriculum’s four lessons are designed so that teacher’s can “easily embed [them] in their health, social skills, or family life curricula.”
Bullying Awareness – According to this packet of bullying awareness lessons, activities and resources from Kentucky State 4-H Teen Council, children who are bullied are more likely to think about suicide. This resource provides a variety of lessons and activities to raise awareness about bullying and give students the skills they need to help prevent it and better handle it when it happens.
Grades 9 – 12
Many of the problems students experienced prior to high school can intensify in high school. Continuing a cross-disciplinary approach to suicide prevention can ensure high school students have the necessary skills and information for recognizing and handling risk factors and warning signs associated with suicide.
Please Don’t – This hands-on lesson prompts students to research teen suicide to learn specific concepts so that they can define suicide, list facts and myths about suicide, understand why teen suicide is on the rise, etc. Then, students create a photo story to address/illustrate those objectives.
Success or Failure – Students take the “Success or Failure” Quiz, in which the teacher reads off a brief bio (e.g., “Politician: Ran for political office seven times and was defeated each time.”) and the students write down whether they think the person was a success or failure. The teacher then leads a discussion, letting students know the answers. Students can also be asked to write a report about a public figure to pinpoint that person’s successes and failures.
Dear “Stressed and Depressed” – Part of the State of Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Health Assessment for High School, this writing assignment prompts students to act as a student writer applying for a part-time newspaper job. As the student writer, students must use what they know about stress management, depression, and community resources to respond to a letter from a fictional teen named “Stressed and Depressed.”
The Crisis Card – In this lesson from the Grades 8-10 WDPI Curriculum, students create their own Crisis Card. This card will feature warning signs of suicide and what students should do when faced with these threats. For the back of the card, students will research community resources and list the names and phone numbers of organizations that can provide support in times of crisis.
What is Your Depression/Suicide IQ? – Students start by guessing fill-in-the-blank statistics on teen depression and suicide. Then, they learn teen depression/suicide statistics based on the Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
Adolescent Suicide: The Role of Epidemiology in Public Health – This lesson from the Young Epidemiology Scholars Program helps students connect how a study of adolescent suicide can be used to assess existing public health programs. The lesson culminates in students evaluating their own school’s suicide prevention program.
Breaking the Silence for High School – Designed to teach teens about mental illness, this lesson uses discussion questions, activities, and an educational poster to teach teens about bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance abuse and its connection to mental illness, and more.
The Scientific Basis of Mental Disorders – This multi-lesson curriculum from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences provides high school students in-depth instruction on depression from a scientific perspective. Lessons include, “What is Depression?,” “The Scientific Understanding of Depression,” “The Causes of Depression,” “Brain Anatomy and Function,” “Neurons and Neurotransmitters,” “Depression and Stress,” “Prevention and Treatment of Depression,” and “Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness.”
More than Sad: Teen Depression – In this lesson, students watch “More than Sad: Teen Depression,” a film produced by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. After watching the film, students take a quiz to show what they’ve learned about teen depression and the teacher leads a discussion on the topic.
LEADS for Youth: A Suicide Prevention Education Program – This two-day, three-hour curriculum focuses on teaching students about depression. It includes PowerPoint presentations, handouts, discussion questions, and more. Here are Day 1 and Day 2 sample schedules.