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ANU rolls out Sources of Strength suicide prevention program to Canberra schools

A pilot program to help reduce suicidal thoughts in young people and increase social connectedness across school communities will be trialled in eight schools across the territory.

The program, called Sources of Strength, is being led by the ANU, and aims to encourage help-seeking in young people.

ANU Centre for Mental Health Research deputy head Phil Batterham said the ANU and the Black Dog Institute were working with the US creators of the program to trial it in Australia.

"The ultimate aim is preventing suicide," associate professor Batterham said.

"What we're trying to do is increase connectedness among peers, using peer strength to improve mental health outcomes."

The peer support program encourages peers to work with each other and build their connections with trusted adults.

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"So when they're having difficulties they have someone to go to that they trust, focusing on what strengths they have now and how they can use those going through a rough time."

Working alongside principal investigator Alison Calear, associate professor Batterham said this was "upstream intervention".

"We know that 45 per cent of people will have a mental health problem in their lifetime. If we can prevent some of that in this early stage, that will hopefully have a lifelong influence for mental health problems and suicide later on."

The program has been successful in reducing suicidal thoughts in young people in the US.

"There are programs, peer support programs, that schools run and various other mental health or wellbeing programs that schools participate in which is great, but I think this program can fill a bit of a niche particularly in that connection between young people and adults. There's often a distrust of adults, so this recognition that there can be adults out there that you can trust [is important]," associate professor Batterham said.

He said it's also about considering personal strengths more broadly, and realising not all young people rely on the same coping approaches when they're going through a tough time.

The program is in the early implementation stages at Gold Creek School.

Principal Angela Spence said Sources of Strength was one of a variety of programs they have in place to look out for the wellbeing of students.

"It's highly valuable because it's not the educators doing it, it's the [students] working with their peers to really build the culture from the ground up," Ms Spence said.

There were 18 students across years 7-10 trained to be peer mentors at the school. Teacher Brent Felix said the students volunteered to be part of Sources of Strength.

"We've got a broad mix so they can take that information back to their year groups and build that capacity across the school to be able to identify those trusted sources," Mr Felix said.

Students Jodie Chang and Isabelle Gaul said they were happy to be part of the movement.

"Previously I know that some students felt a bit disconnected, but because of Sources of Strength they feel more involved and safe I think," Miss Chang said.

Miss Gaul said being part of the program made her feel a difference was being made.

ACT minister for education Yvette Berry said wellbeing and mental health was a major focus for Canberra's public schools.

She said in addition to the programs in place, the government announced 20 new psychologists to be introduced to ACT public schools over the next four years to better care for the wellbeing of our students, parents and carers, schools and the community.

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