Developmental approach to prevent adolescent suicides: research pathways to effective upstream preventive interventions

Am J Prev Med. 2014 Sep;47(3 Suppl 2):S251-6. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2014.05.039.


The 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention expands the current suicide prevention paradigm by including a strategic direction aimed at promoting healthy populations. Childhood and adolescence are key suicide prevention window periods, yet knowledge of suicide prevention pathways through universal interventions is limited (Aspirational Goal 11). Epidemiologic evidence suggests that prevention programs in normative social systems such as schools are needed for broad suicide prevention impact. Prevention trial results show that current universal prevention programs for children and young adolescents are effective in reducing adolescent emotional and behavioral problems that are risk factors for suicidal behavior, and in the case of the Good Behavior Game, suicide attempts. A developmentally sequenced upstream suicide prevention approach is proposed: (1) childhood programs to strengthen a broad set of self-regulation skills through family and school-based programs, followed by (2) adolescent programs that leverage social influences to prevent emerging risk behaviors such as substance abuse and strengthen relationships and skills. Key knowledge breakthroughs needed are evidence linking specific intervention strategies to reduced suicidal behaviors and mortality and their mechanisms of action. Short- and long-term objectives to achieve these breakthroughs include combining evidence from completed prevention trials, increasing motivators for prevention researchers to assess suicide-related outcome, and conducting new trials of upstream interventions in populations using efficient designs acceptable to communities. In conclusion, effective upstream prevention programs have been identified that modify risk and protective factors for adolescent suicide, and key knowledge breakthroughs can jump-start progress in realizing the suicide prevention potential of specific strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Program Development
  • Research / organization & administration*
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Suicide Prevention*
  • Suicide, Attempted / prevention & control*