The Impact of Universal Suicide-Prevention Programs on the Help-Seeking Attitudes and Behaviors of Youths

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Abstract

Background: While the ultimate goal of adolescent suicide-prevention efforts is to decrease the incidence of death by suicide, a critical intermediary goal is directing youths toward effective sources of assistance. Aim: To comprehensively review the universal prevention literature and examine the effects of universal prevention programs on student’s attitudes and behaviors related to help-seeking. Method: We systematically reviewed studies that assessed help-seeking outcomes including prevention efforts utilizing (1) psychoeducational curricula, (2) gatekeeper training, and (3) public service messaging directed at youths. Of the studies reviewed, 17 studies evaluated the help-seeking outcomes. These studies were identified through a range of sources (e.g., searching online databases, examining references of published articles on suicide prevention). Results: The results of this review suggest that suicide-prevention programming has a limited impact on help-seeking behavior. Although there was some evidence that suicide-prevention programs had a positive impact on students’ help-seeking attitudes and behaviors, there was also evidence of no effects or iatrogenic effects. Sex and risk status were moderators of program effects on students help-seeking. Conclusions: Caution is warranted when considering which suicidal prevention interventions best optimize the intended goals. The impact on adolescents’ help-seeking behavior is a key concern for educators and mental-health professionals.

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