District 203 implements new suicide and depression awareness program

Ana Turner, Editor-in-Chief

As mental illness becomes more prevalent in adolescents, Naperville 203 has taken steps to implement a suicide and depression awareness program, called Signs of Suicide (SOS), in all junior high and high schools.

The SOS program aims to provide tools to help youth identify the signs and symptoms of depression, suicide and self-injury in themselves and their peers.

The 2018-2019 school year is the first time that the program has been implemented in all schools. At the high schools, the program is taught to all grade levels at both Central and North.

SOS is taught separately to freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors during different months of the year.

The freshman were the first to receive the program in September because “statistics [about rate of suicide] are actually more significant for younger students,” said Merrigan Neben, Dean of Student Intervention. “The other reason we started with freshman is we don’t know them, so if there are some concerns or need for support we may not be aware of that.”

SOS will be taught to the sophomores in October, juniors in February and finally to seniors in April. The seniors are the last to receive the program because their curriculum involves some different components focused around taking the knowledge taught in SOS to adulthood.

The program takes place in a smaller group setting and requires two sessions to educate an entire grade. It runs either period one, two or three and is separated by the student’s last name. The first day of sessions gets through half of the alphabet and the second day of sessions is the other half.

During that time, students view a 23-minute video that describes the signs of suicide and shares the story of a girl who died by suicide. Afterward, the students take a seven question screener and social workers follow up with students whose screeners indicate concern.  

The SOS program has been in the works since Spring of 2018, after it was approved by the Board of Education.

“One of things the district has been focusing on is the social emotional learning and we had been doing some specific staff development in learning around suicide prevention, intervention and postvention,” Neben said. “Through that work and research is how we discovered the Signs of Suicide program. It felt like the right thing to do at the right time.”

One of those staff developments was a Focus 203 titled “Community Conversation About Suicide” presented on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2017 to spread awareness about facts of suicide to Naperville 203 faculty members.

After discovering SOS, Naperville 203 paired up with Elyssa’s Mission, a non-profit organization from Northbrook, Ill. to bring SOS to Central. Elyssa’s Mission focuses on funding schools in the surrounding areas so they can implement SOS.

To get prepared to teach SOS, faculty attended a one-hour training session during the summer, taught by two Central social workers trained by Elyssa’s Mission. In addition to specific SOS training, Student Services staff has also received extra training in how to respond to students that do show signs of suicide or want help after going through the program.

“We need to be wiser about mental health issues in general,” social worker Amy Barth said. “We need to start talking about it. It’s not a dirty little secret that happens to ‘those’ people. It can happen to all of us and depression and anxiety are so common in our country.”

The program has already been taught to freshman Katie Dalton and she believes it will benefit students.

“I think it’s important to tell kids things that actually go on in high school and that these things do happen.” Dalton said. “I think the program is effective because it actually engages kids in discussion, it doesn’t just teach them.”