Billings Public Schools offer a program to middle and high school students helping to increase awareness of suicide. The program is called Signs of Suicide (SOS) and helps educate students about suicide, what can cause it, and what they can do if a friend or themselves thinks about taking their own lives. 

Superintendent for Billings Public Schools, Greg Upham, says they have been offering the program to students for a while now. With the state of Montana having a high suicide rate, they wanted to do something about the issue by addressing it head-on to students. Upham adds that they have seen an increase in mental health conditions in their students, whether clinical or having troubles at home. 

The SOS program has mental health screenings for students and is considered a good tool to recognize students in need so they can get help. Parents have had positive feedback from the program. Parents who wish not to have their child participate can fill out a slip to opt their child out of the SOS presentation and screening. 

Dr. Chris Olszewski is the executive director of curriculum for Billings Public Schools. He says students in grades 6-9 all go through the presentation addressing suicide and mental health. The presentation goes over what students can do if they experience these feelings: talking to a trusted adult, parent, teacher, counselor, etc.

After the presentation is the mental health screening, where they look at all the data from the screening. If the score is high or they express they have made suicide attempts or ideation, the student gets one-on-one counseling sessions to talk about their feelings and emotions. The screening is then repeated in ninth grade. Olszewski says the screenings have been done for the past six years. 

One of the main goals behind SOS is to show that the school system cares about the students and teaches them what to do if they feel these intense emotions. The program also helps to remove the stigma that suicide is a taboo issue. Not only does the program help students learn what to do if they are feeling this way, but it also helps to show them what they should do if one of their peers is experiencing these feelings.

The SOS program is used in many schools nationwide, demonstrating improved students’ knowledge about adaptive attitudes toward depression and suicide.