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Riverside Trauma Center Goes To School For Suicide Prevention

The Riverside Trauma Center was recently featured in the National Council Magazine for their suicide prevention work in the New Bedford School System. Here is the article, written by Jim McCauley, Associate Director, Riverside Trauma Center.


In late January 2012, a 12-year-old boy in New Bedford, Massachusetts, died by suicide. This was the second suicide death of a New Bedford middle school student in a year. Only about 200 children under the age of 14 die by suicide in the U.S. each year. The community was overwhelmed. The school district asked Riverside Trauma Center to help manage the aftermath and implement a proactive suicide prevention program.

Riverside Trauma Center is a service of the nonprofit organization Riverside Community Care. We help people recover from the overwhelming stress caused by traumatic events by providing community outreach and counseling. In 2006, then State Senator Scott Brown sponsored a bill to ensure the availability of trauma response services to communities in need. This support helped cement the establishment of Riverside Trauma Center, which the Massachusetts Departments of Mental Health and Public Health now primarily funds.

Over the years, Riverside Trauma Center has responded to dozens of situations — a workplace shooting, a bus crash that took the lives of several students, and relocated hurricane Katrina victims who needed “psychological first aid.”

The comprehensive suicide prevention plan for New Bedford schools included training students, staff, and parents, as well as clinical support personnel for the middle school at the site of the most recent death. We also hosted two parent meetings to address parents’ fears and teach them to recognize the signs of depression and suicide in children and adolescents. More than 300 teachers in three middle schools and three alternative schools were trained to identify and respond to at-risk students.

It is critical to immediately tend to the students after a suicide. A student’s suicide death increases the chance of suicide by classmates and raises concerns about the slight risk of suicide contagion. Riverside Trauma Center uses SOS Signs of Suicide® Prevention Program, an evidence-based program developed by Screening for Mental Health. SOS teaches students to identify the symptoms of depression and suicidality and stresses the importance of involving a responsible adult if they are worried about a friend or classmate.

Riverside Trauma Center trained secondary counselors and teachers to utilize SOS with students. The curriculum is composed of a video, a facilitated discussion, and a depression and suicide screening tool.

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