IU sociologist doing first of its kind research into teen suicide prevention

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INDIANAPOLIS — The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on mental health, especially for teenagers.

Indiana University sociologist Anna Mueller is working to give schools more answers on how to prevent teen suicide as the issue continues to grow.

”Over the past 15 years, we have seen dramatically increasing rates of youth suicide in the U.S. and what my project is trying to do is find out better ways we can try and prevent suicide and improve mental health safety nets in schools,” said Mueller.

In this never before done research, Mueller and her team are working with students, counselors and principals at 12 schools in Colorado where youth suicide has become a growing problem.

”We started just by learning and listening to them and then together we’ve sort of identified what we need to do in order to help schools build the best mental health safety nets,” she said.

Recently, Mueller got a “game changing” $1.2 million NIH grant to help her team’s research.

”We’re thrilled to have more staff, have more resources, that we can really do justice to this work,” she said.

Work that is seen as urgent and much needed by local Lawrence North High School counselor Connie Sivertson.

”What we need is that framework to make sure we all speak the same language, we all understand those needs,” Sivertson said.

Mueller said the goal is to create a blueprint for the basics of how schools can help teenagers’ mental health and prevent teen suicide. She said part of her research is pulling together successful programs different schools are already doing.

”I’m just kind of harvesting and borrowing and disseminating information,” Mueller said.

Sivertson said at Lawrence North High School they already have several resources like student led groups, highly trained counselors, on-site therapists and Nugget.

”She’s amazing, we’ve seen her do things that just blow our mind,” Sivertson said.

Nugget is an emotional support dog who has worked at Lawrence North since January.

”Backed by research, petting dogs, amazingly releases serotonin and produces a calming effect,” Sivertson said.

Nugget and other resources can be part of the overall answer but both Mueller and Sivertson know there is still a long way to go, all while schools across the country continue to lose students to suicide.

”On a personal level you feel how painful this is,” Mueller said.

She hopes once her research is done a plan can be spread to schools across the country and teach them the basics of how to help students. From there she said school leaders can build on the plans and find out what works best for their students.

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