Universal Suicide Prevention in Young People: An Evaluation of the safeTALK Program in Australian High Schools

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Abstract

Background: Universal education and awareness programs in schools are a promising suicide prevention intervention but to date no research has evaluated the iatrogenic effects of such programs. Aims: To evaluate the efficacy and acceptability of the safeTALK program for secondary school students and determine whether it is associated with any iatrogenic effects. Method: Participants were 129 students from the three main high schools in Alice Springs who attended the safeTALK training and consented to participate in the evaluation. Participants were assessed immediately before and immediately after the training using a purpose-designed survey. Follow-up questionnaires were administered online 4 weeks after completion of the training. Results: Participants demonstrated increases in knowledge about suicide, confidence in talking about issues related to suicide, willingness to talk about suicide, and likelihood of seeking help for suicidal thoughts. There was no evidence that the training induced suicidal thoughts or caused distress; in fact both appeared to decrease following the training. Most participants did not find the training upsetting; they reported the training to be worthwhile and most said that they would recommend it to a friend. Limitations: The lack of control group, use of non-validated measures, and relatively short follow-up period are limitations of this study. Conclusion: Universal suicide prevention workshops in schools can be beneficial and do not appear to be associated with iatrogenic effects.

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