SOS Signs of Suicide®: An Approved Prevention Program for Ohio Schools

Teenage boy is wearing a backpack and walking down a hallway

A suicide prevention program that Nationwide Children’s Hospital has helped implement for free in 188 schools across 22 counties – reaching more than 59,000 young people – has now been officially approved by the State of Ohio as fulfilling a requirement of a 2021 law meant to enhance student safety.

Peer-reviewed studies have found that the SOS Signs of Suicide® prevention program has a positive impact on children and families, and it’s good news that Ohio schools can utilize it to make an even greater difference, says John Ackerman, PhD, a child clinical psychologist and suicide prevention coordinator for the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children's.

“We have helped schools implement Signs of Suicide since 2015, and we know that not only has it helped many children, but it has become self-sustaining in many districts,” he says. “We train school staff to present to students and follow up on those who are at heightened risk for depression or suicide. We build internal capacity so that each school can eventually run SOS independently. We also promote opportunities for schools to learn from each other.”

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among young people 10-19 years of age. In part to address rising youth suicide rates, the Ohio General Assembly enacted House Bill 123, also known as the SAVE (Safety and Violence Education) Students Act.

Among its provisions is a requirement for school districts to include at least one hour per school year of evidence-based instruction in suicide awareness and prevention in grades 6 through 12. The Ohio Department of Education lists six awareness and prevention programs that qualify, including SOS. The law also requires instruction in safety training, violence prevention and social inclusion.

SOS teaches students and school staff to recognize the signs and symptoms of suicide and depression in themselves and others, and to follow the ACT process:

  • Acknowledge there is a serious concern
  • Show the person you Care
  • Tell a trusted adult

The SOS program also encourages conversation around mental health issues, including depression and suicide, among school staff, families and students. In randomized controlled studies, SOS showed a decrease of 40-64% in self-reported suicide attempts by students.

While the Ohio Department of Education notes that SOS can be associated with costs, Nationwide Children’s implements it for no cost in schools in central and southeastern Ohio. Other organizations throughout Ohio also offer it for no cost as well, including 1N5, LifeAct, Mental Health America of Licking County, New Horizons Mental Health Services, Greenleaf Family Center, and HelpLine, says Dr. Ackerman.

For more information, visit Nationwide Children’s suicide prevention training page and MindWise Innovations, the organization behind SOS and a service of the nonprofit Riverside Community Care.