Last year, four Beaver County teenagers committed suicide. This year the Prevention Network in Baden is taking a new program into public middle schools and high schools with a goal of averting future tragedies.
The program is called SOS — Signs of Suicide. Eight of Beaver County's 14 school districts have already agreed to have the program in their schools.
The program was kicked off last Thursday with a breakfast attended by 62 people, including school officials, county officials and representatives from the offices of state and federal legislators. People from nearby counties also attended and expressed an interest in the program.
The program includes a public awareness campaign.
"Each of the four students had told a peer that they were contemplating suicide," said Jeremy G. Angus, president and CEO of the Prevention Network, a nonprofit that has been working for 35 years to provide social services programs that span a lifetime, from preschool to the elderly.
The SOS program has a 40 percent success rate in reducing the number of suicide attempts in areas where the program has been studied, Mr. Angus said. SOS is a national program, based in the Boston-area.
School districts can agree to have the Prevention Network staff come to middle and high schools to present an assembly, or the message can be worked into the curriculum of existing courses, such as health classes, Mr. Angus said.
Prevention Network has a $2 million yearly budget and 32 employees including professionals that are special education teachers, psychologists, social workers and counselors. Some have received extra training in the SOS program.
SOS aims to get rid of the taboos that keep people from talking about suicide.
"It still happens whether you talk about it or not," Mr. Angus said.
SOS will teach students about the warning signs of depression — including slipping grades — and encourage them to tell an adult who can get help for a struggling student.
"We can staff the schools with a small team" of Prevention Network professionals, Mr. Angus said. "Lives will be saved."
Beaver County school districts will pay nothing for the SOS program. The start-up of the program is funded by a $10,000 grant from Beaver County officials through the behavioral health department.
Programs will start immediately in some schools. Others will begin in the fall at the start of the new school year.
Information: 724-869-2222 or www.thepreventionnetwork.org..
Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-722-0087.