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School- and community-based suicide prevention programs not effective, potentially harmful: report

WATCH: They're supposed to help young people when they're most vulnerable, but do they actually work? A new report says some youth suicide awareness and prevention programs are not only ineffective but may actually be doing harm. Specifically, the report focused on school- and community-based programs. Global's Steve Silva spoke with one of the authors.

A report has found some of the most commonly used suicide prevention and awareness programs for young people aren’t effective and may actually pose safety concerns.

“There is concern some of these programs might be actually doing harm,” said the report’s co-author Dr. Stan Kutcher, a professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie University.

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The report is called “School- and Community-Based Youth Suicide Prevention Interventions: Hot Idea, Hot Air, or Sham?” and is available online.

The team performed a “focused systematic review” of published scientific literature (as well as studies that have not been published) on two school-based programs and one community-based program: Signs of Suicide, Yellow Ribbon, and SafeTALK, respectively.

READ MORE: Facebook rolls out suicide prevention tools to Canadians

“In one study of the Signs of Suicide program, five young people who received the program attempted suicide compared to none in the group that didn’t receive the program,” said Kutcher.

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“When you apply the [Office of Justice Program] framework, it’s very clear that the programs are not ready for distribution.”

Richard Ramsay, president of LivingWorks Education, the company that developed SafeTALK, called the report an “opinion article” with “unfair allegations”.

READ MORE: Ottawa slammed on First Nations funding for child welfare, suicide prevention

He said that the evidence wasn’t robust, and that the program was judged with an unfair standard.

Ramsay also said the program is being independently evaluated on safety in Australia.

“They’re in the process of publication but [can] show there is no safety effects for young people taking this training program,” he added.

Kutcher said the appropriate government organization should regulate these programs.