The current approach to reducing the number of suicides by young people is quite simply not effective. Suicide rates among young people in Ireland are among the highest in the world. This is despite the many suicide prevention programmes, that are been rolled out across many institutions in this country.
So what is going on? Research suggests that the ‘prevention style’ strategies, which we have encountered in schools such as anti-bulling campaigns and programmes which raise awareness about undesirable behaviour may not only be ineffective, but more often counterproductive. Initiatives that place the spotlight and energy on any behaviour they wish to prevent, inadvertently end up increasing the likelihood of that behaviour occurring even more frequently.
So what does work? Based on our own findings from our work in schools and the increasing number of studies published on this topic, the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of proactive initiatives such as positive education and psychology interventions that focus on building resilience, meaning, purpose, optimism, hope, mindfulness, gratitude and grit. These studies have been, and continue to emerge from the field of Positive Psychology, which has been defined as the scientific study of optimal human functioning that aims to discover and promote the factors that enable individuals and communities to thrive (Seligman, 1999). It is NOT naive ‘positive thinking’; rather it is a strategies and skills development focus to ‘optimal functioning ‘and mental well-being. It enhances the traditional remedial approach to ‘fixing’ dysfunctionality and mental ill-being.