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The Indiana Daily Student

administration academics & research

IU sociologist heads research expanding youth suicide prevention strategies


IU sociology professor Anna Mueller and a team of five undergraduate and graduate students are researching more effective ways to for schools to prevent suicide by studying the prevention and response strategies of schools in Colorado.

The study recently received a grant of $1.24 million from the National Institutes of Health to further the work it is doing with schools in Colorado, according to an IU press release. Mueller said the research team partners with two school districts and 12 individual schools in Colorado, which volunteered to take part in the study.

Mueller said the team will follow school officials like teachers and counselors around throughout their day and examine the ways they promote mental health wellbeing in their schools. She said the team uses student and teacher interviews and surveys to hear about what gaps they could help fill in.

“We come at this project with a different approach,” Mueller said. “We start by doing a lot of listening and learning from these schools.” 

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By listening to the needs of these schools, Muller said the hope for the research study is to apply the team’s expertise in suicide prevention to the schools in Colorado.  

Schools have not always have had to think about suicide prevention, Mueller said. She said this is why in one of the Colorado school district she has identified the trainings their school counselors need to have to make talking about suicide in an empathic way. 

These strategies are hard to sustain because of schools’ lack of resources, including small budgets and personnel shortages, Mueller said.

“Finding the time and money to do these training sessions is really difficult,” Mueller said.  

Hannah Worton, an undergraduate research assistant, said the findings of this study could potentially be applied to a post-secondary education atmosphere like a college campus.  

“At the end of the day, we are all humans,” Worton said. “Human suffering and suicide is very complex, so making sure institutions have safety nets in place could be applied at the collegitate level.” 

The NIH grant will give the study the resources needed to do more extensive research of the schools in Colorado, Sarah Diefendorf, IU visiting scholar and a co-investigator on the study, said. 

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Diefendorf said the grant allows them to support a postdoctoral researcher and a team of graduate and undergraduate students at IU. She said the team will help with the field work in Colorado and data collection analysis of this work back on campus. 

The hope is to produce smaller scale solutions for schools to implement to help support their students' mental health needs, Diefendorf said.

“Suicide prevention is everyone's business,” Diefendorf said. “There should be a system of people in the community that are a part of a robust mental health safety net for kids.”

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