What to Know
SOS is an evidence-based youth suicide prevention program that teaches middle and high school students how to identify warning signs of suicide and depression.
Trusted by thousands of schools across the country, SOS can be delivered in a single class period and encourages students to ACT (Acknowledge, Care, Tell) if they are worried about themselves or a friend.
Videos & Classroom Discussion
Students will watch a series of brief educational videos and participate in a guided discussion about depression, suicide, and what to do if they are concerned about themselves or a friend.
All videos contain age-appropriate dramatizations of students demonstrating common signs of depression and suicide along with the right and wrong ways to respond using the ACT technique (Acknowledge, Care, Tell). Younger students watch dramatizations, roundtable discussion, and learn from experts, while older students also see real-life stories from young adults who have sought help and who share their journeys of recovery.
SOS uses mental health screening as an educational tool that teaches students about the signs of depression and/or suicide risk. The screening does not provide a diagnosis. Once students answer the questions, they read help-seeking advice based on their answers. If they are experiencing signs of depression or suicide risk, the form encourages them to seek help from trusted adults.
Sometimes adults are concerned that asking students about suicide could increase their distress or cause suicidal thoughts. Years of research on school-based screening for suicide risk has shown no increased risk for students. In fact, high–risk students appeared less distressed following screening (Gould et al., 2005) and were more likely to receive mental health treatment (Gould et al., 2009). Screening youth for suicide risk is a safe and effective component of school-based suicide prevention.
Exit Slip & Follow Up
After the lesson, all students are asked to complete an exit slip indicating whether they would like to speak to an adult about any concerns for themselves or a friend. Schools are encouraged to follow their procedures to ensure timely follow-up for any students seeking support.
Continuing the Conversation at Home
We encourage you to talk to your child about their suicide prevention education. Through SOS, students are learning to ACT: Acknowledge signs of suicide, show their friend they Care, and Tell a trusted adult.
It can be tough to bring up the topic of depression and suicide, but these conversations are essential. Ask your child about what they are learning in school and encourage them to come to you with any concerns for themselves or their friends. You can help protect your child and their friends by starting a conversation about mental health today and keeping it going throughout the years.
Mental health: Depression and other mental health concerns can impact anyone, including children and teens. While most teens who experience depression will never consider suicide, when depression goes untreated, some teens may feel so hopeless they consider suicide. Unfortunately, many teens and adults suffer for years without getting treatment. Seek support for your child as soon as you become concerned.
Substance use: Many teens turn to alcohol and/or drug use to try to cope with negative emotions. Talk to your child about the dangers of using alcohol or drugs to cope with negative emotions. Seek support for your child if you see signs of substance use.
Self-injury: Non-suicidal self-injury is when someone hurts themselves on purpose without the intention of dying. Though it is different from a suicide attempt, it is a serious concern and can increase someone’s risk for suicide. Seek professional help for self-injury immediately.
Access to guns: Suicidal crises are often temporary but access to a gun makes it easier to follow through in an instant. If you have a gun in your home, ensure it is safely locked and unloaded- and that your child does not know the code. Lock and store ammunition separately. If there is concern that a member of the household could be at risk of suicide, storing the gun outside the home – with a friend or a family member who is licensed to have a firearm – will greatly decrease the chances of a family member using the weapon in a moment of despair.
Populations at elevated risk: Though no one is immune from feeling depressed or suicidal, certain communities face increased risk including suicide loss survivors, people experiencing homelessness, individuals with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ youth who face rejection. Provide increased support for teens who identify in any of these groups.
Spot the Signs
Sometimes a teen’s words or behaviors give clues that they are thinking about suicide. Teens may also show signs to friends or teachers that you aren’t seeing at home. Take any concerns seriously. You may notice:
- Major changes in appearance, eating, or sleep
- Extreme withdrawal from friends and family
- Increased anger, agitation, or risky behavior (including alcohol or drug use)
- Sounding hopeless, trapped, or overwhelmed
- Talk of death or wanting to kill themselves
Talk to Your Child
If you have concerns for your child, the first step is to start a conversation, and then listen without judgement. Often when teens are struggling, they feel disconnected from the people who love them or fear that they might get in trouble. You can say, “I’ve noticed some big changes in you. How are you?” You can show your support by saying, “It’s okay to feel this way. I’m here for you.”
If they give any indication that they are thinking about suicide, don’t hesitate to ask directly. Asking about suicide will not put the idea in their head. Instead, it will show them that you really see their pain and are not afraid to hear the truth. “When things get this tough, have you ever thought about ending your life?” No matter how your child answers, show your support and keep the conversation going. The ACT message applies to you too.
- Acknowledge signs of suicide in your child
- Care: show your child that you can listen and support them
- Tell someone; reach out to get your child the help they need
There are many pathways to healing. Most people thinking about suicide are struggling with a mental health condition like depression. With professional help, people begin to feel much better. But it can be hard for a teen who is struggling to ask for help. Be your child’s advocate. You can start by reaching out to their pediatrician or school counselor. Call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 for free 24/7 support.
Parent & Caregiver Resources
SOS Resources for Parents & Caregivers:
About Youth Depression and Suicide
- Teens share what depression felt like for them. Experts talk about the warning signs of depression and suicide in adolescents. Watch the video.
Elli’s Story: Youth Depression from her Parents’ Perspective
- Elli tells the story of her struggle with depression, self-harm, and suicide. Her best friend, Mikayla, recounts how telling her own parent about her fears for Elli helped save her life. Watch the video.
“We have seen the SOS program help students because it empowers students to say something when they are concerned about a friend.
This has happened multiple times. The program saves lives."High School Principal
The Evidence Behind SOS
Since the program’s inception, researchers have assessed the effectiveness of SOS Signs of Suicide by conducting several randomized controlled trials – an evaluation known as the “gold standard” of research studies.
SOS has demonstrated an improvement in students’ knowledge and adaptive attitudes about suicide risk and depression.
It has also shown a 64% reduction in self-reported suicide attempts.
Each district has their own policies, guidelines, and resources, so please contact your school directly with any questions about how SOS will be facilitated in your community.