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School-Based Suicide Prevention Laws in Action: A Nationwide Investigation of Principals’ Knowledge of and Adherence to State School-Based Suicide Prevention Laws

Abstract

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 10–24 in the USA. In response to the high rate of youth suicide, teen suicide has gained national attention and, as a result, state governments have created legislation regarding youth suicide prevention in schools. States hold the power to instruct their schools in how to address suicide prevention, but little research has explored the relationship between state laws about school-based suicide prevention and schools’ actual practice of suicide prevention or about the effectiveness of different types of laws. The current study examined this relationship by surveying a nationally representative sample of high school principals. It assesses their knowledge of and compliance with state laws about suicide prevention, adherence to best practices for school-based suicide prevention, and variables that predict their schools’ suicide prevention program comprehensiveness. Results indicated that only about 25% of principals (N = 656) accurately identified their states’ laws about school-based suicide prevention, and 66.1% reported that their schools’ suicide prevention programs are in complete compliance with their states’ laws. Principals in states with the most stringent laws reported having the most comprehensive suicide prevention programs. Having funding, perceived support, student socioeconomic status, and having a student in their current school die by suicide were all significantly related to suicide prevention program comprehensiveness. Implications for policy, practice, and research are discussed.

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Funding

This study was funded by the Annette Urso Rickel Foundation Dissertation Award for Public Policy and funds raised through the Hawk’s Nest Research Fund.

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Correspondence to Mills K. Smith-Millman.

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Both authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Standard

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Smith-Millman, M.K., Flaspohler, P.D. School-Based Suicide Prevention Laws in Action: A Nationwide Investigation of Principals’ Knowledge of and Adherence to State School-Based Suicide Prevention Laws. School Mental Health 11, 321–334 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-018-9287-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-018-9287-y

Keywords

  • Suicide prevention
  • Schools
  • Policy
  • Best practices