ASU's Department of Psychology has developed an Applied Prevention Science program aimed at teaching graduate students how to prevent suicide in their communities by identifying warning signs for suicidality in children and adolescents.
Students learn how to take a proactive approach to suicide prevention by learning how to effectively discuss mental health issues with parents and students in their community. These skills can then be used to develop programs in schools and organizations that address mental health issues using evidence-based programs that are proven to work outside of a lab setting, according to various University professors and counselors.
Armando Pina, an associate professor of psychology, said that preventing suicide in communities is something that students should view as a case-by-case scenario. He said each case should involve learning to work with stakeholders and community leaders to find the best solution to suicide and mental health issues.
“It's a matter of figuring out what would work best for their community and what is it that we can do to better serve that community and become partners, and together affect change,” Pina said. “It's not so much, ‘I have this; I want you to use it,’ … this is about collaboration. It's about working together as a team.”
Ryan Stoll, who was mentored by Pina and who founded Compass for Courage, a social and emotional learning program for elementary schools, said that in Arizona many public schools use mental health prevention programs that are not science-based.
“Part of the prevention certificate program is helping to de-implement these non-evidence based programs and replace them with programs that science has demonstrated, can have an effect, can prevent disorder from occurring, (and) can reduce risk,” Stoll said.
Stoll said that he and Pina collaborated with Arizona school districts for several years to learn what resources schools needed in order to get evidence-based programs into practice.
Considering whether a school’s therapists can follow the program on a continual basis, if students like the program and if the parents accept the program are all important factors in deciding what program works best for a school, Pina said.
“Maybe we want to see the kids being happier and engaging in more relationships with all the kiddos, participate more in birthday parties (and) get-togethers,” Pina said. “Those are clinical indicators. Those are the kinds of things that we want to see.”
Dr. Aaron Krasnow, associate vice president and director of ASU Counseling Services, said he knows firsthand how difficult giving students mental health services is when they come from communities or families that still have a stigma against mental illness.
“Take any health topic and there'll be some part of the community who doesn't want people talking to their child about (it),” Krasnow said. “The work that the psychology department is doing is trying to introduce more evidence-based strategies, so that when those barriers come up where someone says they don't want you to talk about this, that the helpers in the environments have a way to talk about it with that family."
Stoll said that nationally one in five adolescents will develop a diagnosable mental health disorder in their lifetime. Stoll said that if schools can improve the mental well-being of students early on in their education, schools can mitigate many of the mental health problems common today, like anxiety.
“(Prevention coordinators are) seeing increases of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in younger and younger students,” Stoll said. “They're seeing a disconnect … among students. What we know ... is if we don't address those early on when they're first popping up, there's a pathway towards more clinical outcomes, more severe mental health problems.”
Pina said students ultimately learn to be adaptable prevention specialists that serve as leaders, experts and educators in their community.
“You see everything that the job entails and you come and you see our curriculum, you see that we're training you for those things,” Pina said. “It's a perfect match, and we've made sure of that every single semester. The courses are not static; the training is not static. It's always changing to meet the needs of the community.”