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Project EASE: A pioneering project to promote youth suicide prevention in Andhra Pradesh!

Student Distress

The need:

Student suicides are at an all-time high, with 13,044 students dying by suicide in India in 2022; amounting to losing approximately 36 students every day. Both teachers and medical professionals have minimal training when it comes to identifying and then intervening with suicide.

Studies have consistently shown that early interventions with youth that have thoughts about suicide or suicidal behaviours significantly reduce the length and severity of the suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

Project EASE, (Emotional Assessment of Students by Educators) an initiative to help prevent suicides among students has taken off to a good start, with more than 1000 medical students being trained in less than 50 days across seven colleges. Project EASE evolved through AAPI leadership headed by Dr Ravi Kolli at the request of Sri YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, the honorable Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and was launched by Vidadala Rajini Garu, Health Minister of Andhra Pradesh Jan 2023 at the Global Health Summit.

A total of 1354 medical students have been trained since November 23rd across seven medical colleges – ACSR- Nellore, RIMS- Ongole, GMC - Ananthapuram, GMC - Guntur, RMC-Kakinada, SMC - Vijayawada, and SVMC -Tirupathi. The training was conducted in medical colleges where students gathered together on different dates and timings and finished the online QPR gatekeeper training simultaneously.

Project Ease

“The highest youth suicide rate is in India because of stigma, and inadequate resources to target mental health. Many people including youth at risk for suicide do not see health care professionals in the critical weeks, days, or hours before they harm themselves. However, friends, family, teachers can help if they know how to recognize and respond to suicide risk. Gatekeeper training teaches people who work with youth, to identify those who are showing warning signs of suicide risk and help these children get the services they need,” says Dr. Aparna Vuppala, Director of Project EASE, and a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist.

Project EASE is an endeavor to promote emotional well-being, through early identification and assessment of student mental health, and referrals to mental health professionals. Through a unique cascade training, the goal is to reach a total of 3 lakh students (from kindergarten (KG) to college students) via teachers, and facilitate referrals to counsellors, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

With student suicides at an all-time high, the need for the hour is more attention to how suicide in students can be prevented. Focusing on key factors that contribute to student suicide, project EASE is a 5-step program which aims to train the people who students come in contact with most often in their day to day lives.

"This project was started after Honorable Sri YS Jaganmohan Reddy Garu said he wanted to address student mental health. We worked on developing a comprehensive program based on his input to prevent suicides and improve mental health. We are happy this has started and received a good response," says Dr. Vasudeva Reddy, NRI Medical Affairs Advisor, Government of Andhra Pradesh.

The intervention, called QPR gatekeeper training, teaches teachers, counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists and medical students how to Question people on whether they are thinking about suicide, persuade them to get help from a professional and then finally Refer them over to a mental health professional. The students will be referred over to a helpline, run by a collaboration between Tele-MANAS and AIIMS. Volunteers for the helpline will be trained by SPIF in QPR gatekeeper training, and AAPI on Child mental health topics and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) training.

“We are happy to be partnering with the Government of Andhra Pradesh to launch this pioneering evidence-based initiative that we hope will help address the scourge of student suicides. We hope that other states will follow suit,” says Nelson Vinod Moses, Founder and CEO of Suicide Prevention India Foundation.

Gatekeeper training, which is recommended by both the WHO (World Health Organization) and the Government of India – as part of the recently released National Suicide Prevention Strategy – will provide more clarity on what measures should be taken to identify when someone is thinking about suicide or engaging in suicidal behaviour, and what to do once that person has been identified.

On top of the gatekeeper training, the project also aims to reduce stigma and behaviours usually associated with suicide. This will be done through incorporating material on Mental Health 101, Emotional first aid, and mental health self-care, to understand the basics of mental health and how to look after it.

Project Ease Students

A multiyear project, a total of 3 lakh students, teachers and health workers will get trained, a cascading system is being used for the training, where a set of Master trainers will be trained first, who will then proceed to train their own set of people to become QPR gatekeepers. Since most at risk youth are in Intermediate/ 11th-12th class, this group will be receiving training first upon approval by the Board of Intermediate Education.

The training for medical students was sorted by Medapati Venkat, APNRT Chairman and Ramakrishna Gotimukala, Coordinator for project EASE About the American Association of Physicians of Indian origin (AAPI):

Being a platform for over 40,000 physicians, medical students, residents, and fellows of Indian origin in the U.S.A, AAPI is running the project and setting up Continuing Medical Educations programmes for guidelines on diagnosing mental illnesses and first line treatment for depression and anxiety.

About some of the collaborators:

1. Suicide Prevention India Foundation (SPIF):

Founded in September 2017, Suicide Prevention India Foundation (SPIF), is a Section-8 not-for-profit, that was incubated at IIM- Bangalore. They have worked with institutions such as IIT (Hyderabad, Bombay, Delhi, Kanpur and Kharagpur) for QPR gatekeeper training previously, and also worked with corporations such as Instagram and

Meta for increasing suicide awareness in the general public. Being the source of QPR gatekeeper training in India, SPIF will also be providing their Providing Support handbook out to the people being trained.

2. Andhra Pradesh State Council of Educational Research and Training (APSCERT):

The council that prepares the curriculum and syllabus for Primary, Upper Primary, Secondary and alternative systems of education, APSCERT will be translating training modules that are to be delivered and help with felicitating the training.

Published date : 21 Dec 2023 06:37PM

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