Suicide Prevention for Schools and Community Members

September is Suicide Prevention Month

One in three children in America are currently struggling with mental illnesses[1] such as depression[2], anxiety disorders, addictions and eating disorders.  Although these numbers are alarming, mental illnesses are the most preventable of all diseases[3].   There is a critical need to build resilience in America’s youth through evidence-based prevention programs.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, mental health disorders and addictions are also on the rise in diverse ethnic and socio-cultural groups

  • Fifty percent of children and youth in the child welfare system have mental health disorders.[4]
  • Sixty-seven to seventy percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health disorder.[5]
  • Eighty-eight percent of Latino children and youth have unmet mental health needs, compared to 77 percent for African-Americans and 76 percent for white children and youth.[6]

However, in 2018 in many states and countries, mental health education, promotion and prevention programs are not a common part of school curriculum.  Despite the lowered quality of life, significant personal costs, and drastically heightened mortality rates, the stigma attached to sufferers can often prevent them from getting the help they need.[7] This means that many children and adolescents are struggling in silence with treatable and preventable mental health disorders.[8]

Mental Fitness’s programs are built on collaborative partnerships with the United Way of the Piedmont’s Behavioral Health Task Force initiative happening in the Spartanburg area.  Our programs emphasize the importance of building the shared protective factors for mental health disorders.  This strategy has shown to substantially improve overall health outcomes and reduce risk for mental health disorders, addictions and obesity in K-12 schools and universities alike.[9]  All of our years of research have taught us that getting upstream of mental health complications requires strategic, evidence-based programming, bold thinking and deep collaboration. To this end, let’s take a look three cutting-edge projects happening in Spartanburg that all connect to suicide prevention:

  1. Suicide Prevention Task Force

In 2017, through support from United Way of the Piedmont – Behavioral Health Task Force and its partners, Mental Fitness launched a collaborative initiative to produce a 16-hour mental health symposium for educators in Spartanburg.  The goal of the program was to raise awareness among educators about mental health disorders, what they can do to help students, and the types of evidence-based prevention programs available.  Survey feedback from over 80 educators and counselors showed that more suicide prevention training was a top priority.  To answer that call, a Suicide Prevention Task Force was created to safely connect schools and colleges to evidence-based prevention resources in SC.  Led by Dr. Alex Karydi and Taylor Davis from the SC Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative (SCYSPI) (through the Department of Mental Health) in Columbia, SC.  The initiative is fully grant funded and offers training to Spartanburg educators, leaders, parents and teens.  We engaged K-12 school and college participation from the 7 districts in Spartanburg and we will soon launch a teen focused task force in Fall, 2018.  We are currently seeking young adults to join the team.  They will be led by Mental Fitness and SCYSPI staff and will be able to share their strategic guidance and creative ideas.  To learn more or to sign up, please email

  1. Suicide Prevention Educational Modules

Working through a grant funded by Spartanburg County Foundation Women Giving, Mental Fitness is working with the SCYSPI program and Resiliency Technologies to create educational modules on suicide prevention that will be distributed through the Sharpen technology platform.  The educational modules include documentary film style footage of the SCYSPI researchers teaching important facts and strategies for prevention of suicide.  Designed for educators, school counselors, parents and students, there will also be a series of modules on substance use disorder awareness and prevention, led by The Forrester Center for Behavioral Health.

  1. Operation Deep Dive” — Suicide Study through Upstate Warrior Solution

Working in coordination with the Upstate Warrior Solution in Spartanburg, we are collaborating on a robust suicide study, led by researchers from University of Alabama.  Though it is important to have fabulous programs in the area, it is even more important to ensure they are coordinated and working in synergy.

Through this comprehensive series of programs that utilize a combination of live training and cutting-edge technology, we seek to:

  • Reach more educators in all 7 districts of Spartanburg with evidence-based strategies for prevention of mental health and substance use disorders
  • Reach more parents with an entire toolkit that supports prevention strategies for youth
  • Improve the protective factors for suicide prevention and substance use disorders in our teens and young adults


Learn more by visiting or by emailing

[1] Merikangas, K. R., He, J., Burstein, M., Swanson, S. A., Avenevoli, S., Cui, L., … Swendsen, J. (2010). Lifetime Prevalence of Mental Disorders in US Adolescents: Results from the National Comorbidity Study-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 49(10), 980–989.

[2] Breslau, J., Gilman, S.E., Stein, B.D., Ruder, T., Gmelin, T., Miller, E. (2017).  Sex differences in recent first-onset depression in an epidemiological sample of adolescents.  Translational Psychiatry 7, e1139 (2017).

[3] NIH: 2014 US Attorney General report

[4] Burns, B. J., Phillips, S.D, et al., (2004). Mental health need and access to mental health services by youths involved with child welfare: a national survey.

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;43(8):960-70.

[5] Skowyra & Cocozza, 2007, Retrieved from:

[6] Kataoka, Zhang, & Wells, 2002, Retrieved from:

[7] McLaughlin, Catherine G. “Delays in Treatment for Mental Disorders and Health Insurance Coverage.” Health Services Research 39.2 (2004): 221–224. PMC. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

[8] Fergus & Zimmerman, 2005; Luthar & Cicchetti; Yates et al., 2003 Retrieved from:

[9] Haines, J., and Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2006).  Prevention of Obesity and Eating Disorders: A Consideration of Shared Risk Factors.  Published by Oxford University Press. Health Education Research Vol. 21 no. 6, p. 770-782.