Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth and young adults ages 10--24. In 2001 the U.S. Surgeon General laid out a national strategic plan to more effectively address suicide prevention (United States Public Health Service, 2001). In 2008, Gene Cash, then president of The National Association of School Psychologists, made a "call to action" to prevent suicide. Although suicide prevention has been repeatedly identified as a priority in mental health care, the vast majority of interventions with suicidal youth are not evidence based due to a lack of research utilizing controlled studies (Daniel & Goldston, 2009). Unfortunately this leaves mental health professionals (MHPs) to routinely implement interventions that are not research based and not proven effective in deterring suicidal thoughts and actions. No-suicide contracts (NSCs), commonly used in clinical and medical settings, solicit a commitment from a suicidal individual, a promise not to complete suicide. The prevalence of school-based MHPs' use of NSCs with suicidal youth (SY) is unknown. Additionally, minimal feedback is available regarding MHPs' perceptions of and current practice regarding implementation of NSCs. Likewise, school policy directing MHPs' intervention when working with SY is neither well described nor understood. A brief survey was created to access these perceptions and practices. Of 326 MHPs attending a Utah Youth Suicide Prevention Conference, 243 completed a survey (74.5% participation rate). Half of participants intervening with SY reported using NSCs. Only 27 of the 243 participants indicated that their school's policy encouraged or required a NSC. Only 8 participants reported knowledge of a formal written school policy that specifically guided their intervention with SY. Reasoning underlying decisions to use or not to use NSCs were explored. Common explanations included attending to individual student needs, following perceived guidelines, building trust with SY and adapting contracts to fit student needs, and opening discussion about suicide. Several participants expressed a need for additional training with no-suicide contracting. A few participants called for either renaming NSCs or implementing a similar, but more positive, "commitment to treatment" strategy. Participants did not mention a need for additional research to explore the efficacy of NSCs. In fact, research was not mentioned. This reflects the gap between research and practice and the dependency on personal experience and going along with the status quo versus depending on research findings to dictate improvement and change in practice.
College and Department
David O. McKay School of Education; Counseling Psychology and Special Education
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Hansen, Andrea L., "No-Suicide Contracts with Suicidal Youth: Utah Mental Health Professionals' Perceptions and Current Practice" (2012). Theses and Dissertations. 3464.
no-suicide contract, mental health professionals, school-based intervention, suicide prevention