The Des Moines high school where a reported student suicide pact was uncovered this week will become the first in Iowa to launch a new suicide prevention program.TeenScreen was developed by Columbia University to confidentially screen middle and high schoolers and identify those at risk for mental illness and suicide to ensure they get treatment. Former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad was on an advisory board to Columbia for the program and recommended it to Lincoln High School. Branstad says it’s an issue that requires support and assistance from the community at-large.A Lincoln sophomore hanged himself last week. Early Monday, police learned of the reported suicide pact and went to the homes of nine more students and warned the parents. Three of the students were taken to hospitals. Branstad says “Suicide is such a difficult thing because oftentimes parents don’t even know that their child is having problems. Often the signs of depression or suicide are masked by other behaviors or they’re not seen at all.” He says TeenScreen can be administered quickly and quietly. A carefully-developed series of questions are taken over the computer to determine if the child may be at risk for depression or suicide, and certain answers would bring a follow-up review with a professional. Branstad says the TeenScreen program is being provided to Lincoln High for free, though there would be costs incurred when those follow-ups are done on an as-needed basis. A Columbia study found 91-percent of teens who committed suicide had a psychiatric disorder. Most suffered from depression, abused alcohol or drugs, and/or made a prior suicide attempt. The findings revealed teen suicide is not an unpredictable event, in fact, teens who kill themselves suffer from a very specific range of mental illnesses.
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