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Primary Prevention Strategies


    Educational programs at the primary prevention level should provide information to students, families, and the community. The development of self-confidence and a healthy self-esteem will prevent suicidal behaviors before they occur. Programs that teach problem solving skills and social skills will benefit the individual throughout life. Research done by McWhirter, McWhirter, McWhirter, and McWhirter (1993, as cited in Serna & Smith, 1995) compared students at risk to successful students. The research showed that successful students had access to supportive teachers. "These students exhibited good social skills, were able to set goals, problem solve, and persist toward attaining whatever they believed would achieve a positive and meaningful life for themselves." The study showed that very few of these skills had been obtained by the at-risk students.

    In 1992, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a resource guide, Youth Suicide Prevention Programs: A Resource Guide, to aid communities in developing new or augmenting existing suicide prevention programs directed toward the 15- to 24-year age group. (MMWR, 1994) Brief summaries of some existing programs are described in the resource guide.

    SELF Self Esteem For Life Fitness (SELF) is one primary prevention program described in the resource guide. This program had been in operation for four years in Lyndhurst, New Jersey. The SELF program teaches educators to implement the SELF curriculum in the classroom. Companion workshops for parents are available. "SELF is a comprehensive school-based program in which participants learn techniques for developing positive self-images and healthy coping skills." (CDC, 1992)

    ASAP Another program, which has been in operation in Lyndhurst for nine years, is the Adolescent Suicide Awareness Program (ASAP). ASAP is a program to increase levels of awareness and knowledge of youth suicide in the schools and in the community. It includes seminars for educators, parents, and students. Topics covered in the program are: (1) facts about and warning signs of suicide, (2) where to get help, and (3) how to help a suicidal friend. (CDC, 1992)

    Means Restriction.

    "Means restriction refers to suicide prevention efforts that reduce access to firearms, drugs, high places, and other common means of committing suicide." (CDC, 1992) Impulsiveness and ambivalence are important factors in suicidal behaviors among young people. Therefore, means restriction has the potential for preventing suicides. "At least some portion of impulsive decisions to attempt suicide might never be acted on if substantial efforts were needed to arrange for a method of suicide." (CDC, 1992)

    The purpose of primary prevention programs is to deal with factors that place a person at risk before suicidal behaviors occur. Therefore, strategies should aim to help young people develop personal skills that will allow them to deal constructively with the demands of living and to realize their potential. Primary prevention plans must increase public awareness of vulnerability and risk factors. The decision to take one's own life is often made when the individual assumes they will never be able to have a life free from emotional pain. Since this is usually not the case, reducing access to lethal means may provide a chance for survival and recovery.

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