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Suicide Rates Rise Among Youth, Mental Health Awareness in Schools Necessary for Prevention, MU Expert Says

National Suicide Prevention Week takes place Sept. 9–15

Sept. 7, 2007

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, 573-882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — In 2004, suicide was the second leading cause of death for adolescents ages 15 to 19 in Missouri alone, according to the Missouri Department of Mental Health. Stigma, embarrassment, insecurity and fear are all feelings that hold a person back from seeking help when thoughts of suicide enter their minds. That's why it is imperative that school personnel be taught to recognize risk factors and learn what to do and when to do it before it is too late, according to Jim Koller, the co-director of the Center for the Advancement of Mental Health Practices in Schools at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

“About 90 percent of all people who commit suicide have a mental health disorder,” said Koller, who also is a faculty member in the MU College of Education's Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology. “Mental illness has a stigma so it is often shoved under the rug. I have allergies and I'm not afraid or ashamed to talk about it. However, someone who is depressed doesn't want to disclose that information. We have to erase that stigma.”

Historically, Missouri's suicide rate is higher than the national average. In a survey, 15 percent of Missouri students reported they had seriously thought about attempting suicide, and 7 percent actually did attempt, according to the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

“In addition to the suicides that are actually accomplished, there are an incalculable number of attempts,” Koller said. “This is something that has a ripple effect. The suicides and attempts have an effect on family, friends and classmates. This is not an isolated problem.”

The Center for the Advancement of Mental Health Practices in Schools trains teachers, counselors, school psychologists and agencies that deal with schools about becoming knowledgeable about early warning signs and creating positive mental health environments. The Center also offers a new master of education and educational specialist degree with a focus in mental health practices in schools as the first online programs of their kind nationally. Two years ago, the Center received a grant from the Missouri Department of Mental Health to study the effects of suicide prevention efforts in schools. As an outgrowth of this grant, now in its third year, The Center is developing a course on suicide prevention that will be included in its national online program.

“Mental illness is growing by leaps and bounds and there is an escalation of the rates of children being diagnosed with serious disorders, such as bi-polar disorder,” Koller said. “Mental health is real and suicide is very preventable. It is time to be proactive rather than wait until a student starts failing and just try to put out fires.”