UW Today

This is an archived article.

April 28, 2006

Suicide awareness, prevention programs needed in schools

When it comes to talking about suicide, Americans avoid the topic much the same way they skirted discussions about sex 20 years ago. But the president of the American Association of Suicidology says the time is long overdue for people to start talking about the problem and to launch suicide awareness and prevention programs in the nation’s schools.

James Mazza will challenge the more than 600 people attending the association’s 39th annual meeting in Seattle tomorrow to make suicide “a community and societal issue because no one escapes it.” His talk begins at 8:45 a.m. in the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

The meeting starts today and runs through Monday and will attract crisis center workers, a survivors group, researchers, prevention experts and therapists. The meeting is held concurrently with a crisis center conference and an annual healing after suicide conference.

Mazza, a University of Washington associate professor of educational psychology who focuses his research on reducing and preventing suicide, said there is a critical need to initiate suicide awareness and prevention program in the nation’s schools. Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults ages 15 to 24, behind traffic accidents and homicide.

“Right now we don’t do anything that has a mental health focus in our schools that is standardized across our state or country. We need to focus on our kids when they are first getting the bumps and bruises of life,” he said. “There are no wide-scale school programs on suicide awareness and prevention largely because schools don’t have the resources to effectively deal with the at-risk youth they identify. And there are no federally funded resources available for mental health assessment. As a result, schools only focus on having students pass the Washington Assessment of Student Learning or other assessment tests and are ignoring their mental health needs. Education should not be equated to only academics.

“We have to have resources dedicated to suicide prevention and awareness in the schools.”

The problem, however, transcends the schools, Mazza said, noting that it is the second-leading cause of death among adults 65 and older, the age group also has the nation’s highest suicide rate. Mazza said members of the organization must work with businesses, colleges and treatment centers, as well as schools, to deal with suicide prevention and awareness across the life span.

“There is a major need for assessment for suicide and to intervene with people of all ages who are at risk for suicide.”

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For more information, contact Mazza at the conference on his cell phone at (206) 779-1264. After May 1 he can be reached at (206) 616-6373 or mazza@u.washington.edu.

During the American Association of Suicidology meeting, Beverly Jackson, is available to assist the news media at (202) 494-7394.

Useful crisis line numbers if you need immediate help or know of someone who does regarding suicide or suicidal behavior:

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

King County Crisis Clinic: 206-461-3222 or 1-866-4CRISIS (427-4747).

Teen Link: 1-866-833-6546.