Clarifying the Program Research Behind SOS Signs of Suicide
MindWise Innovation’s SOS Signs of Suicide teaches students how to recognize warning signs of suicide and what to do if they are concerned about themselves or a friend. For almost two decades SOS has taught millions of students critical suicide prevention skills. Multiple randomized controlled trials evaluating SOS have demonstrated the effectiveness of the program. Students receiving SOS have demonstrated an improvement in knowledge and adaptive attitudes about suicide risk and depression, as well as shown a 64% reduction in self-reported suicide attempts.
However, when researching SOS online, you may find two articles written by Wei, Kutcher, and colleagues that question the evidence behind SOS. The authors claim that SOS has not sufficiently demonstrated effectiveness despite independent research evaluating the program. They also make a claim that findings from a 2014 program evaluation “could be interpreted as the SOS program inducing suicide attempts.”
These sorts of statements can have a real impact on communities’ commitment to suicide prevention and schools’ ability to provide students with lifesaving training. They perpetuate the much-debunked myth that talking about suicide can encourage suicidal behavior. It is important that we dispute these claims so that schools and communities continue to support students with safe, evidence-based suicide prevention.
The authors claim that a “recent study of SOS (Schilling, Lawless, Buchanan & Asetine, 2014) … demonstrated an increased number of suicide attempts in the intervention group (n=5 attempts) compared to controls (n=0 attempts).”
In fact, Schilling, et al.’s study showed that five students in the intervention group (n=5) reported suicide attempts PRIOR to SOS while no students in the control group (n=0) reported having past suicide attempts PRIOR to the study. Of these two groups, ZERO students reported suicide attempts following SOS. The study did not demonstrate an increased number of suicide attempts for the intervention group, as claimed. In fact, this group of five students reported no suicide attempts following SOS.
Schilling, et al. focus on the larger sample of students who reported suicidal ideation (thoughts) prior to the study in both the intervention and control groups. “Results showed that students who reported suicidal ideation in the pre-test before receiving SOS training were 96% less likely to report engaging in suicidal behaviors after participating in the program, versus their peers who reported previous suicidal ideation and did not receive SOS. This indicates that SOS may, for some students with suicidal ideation, interrupt the progression from suicidal ideation to more active stages of contemplation, planning, and attempt.”
Academic research can be difficult to access and dense to comb through. Unfortunately, headlines often fail to capture the data within each study. We hope this discussion is useful and we welcome any school or community members to contact us to discuss the evidence behind SOS and the details of any published research. We are proud of our program and our many school and community partners who are making a difference with students every day.