1. How did you become interested in this topic?

Anna has always had an interest in understanding how to build schools that address youth’s education and developmental needs. As suicide became an increasing problem in the U.S., she became deeply passionate about understanding how schools and communities, as social environments, contribute to making kids happy and healthy or stressed and miserable. She also noticed that we know very little about these “social roots” of distress and suicide, and with that, threw herself into generating that knowledge. Anna has not personally lost anyone to suicide, though like many of us, she has had close loved ones who have struggled with suicidality. After working on suicide loss and bereavement for over 10 years, she is deeply committed to suicide prevention.

2. What will this study involve?

Researchers will (1) conduct observations of youth-centered community life in schools and other community locations. We will be present in the community for an extended period, specifically the 2019-2020, 2020-2021, 2021-2022, and 2022-2023 school years. The researchers will obtain parental consent prior to interviews with youth under the age of 18. Research will not conflict with schooling.

Researchers will also (2) conduct interviews and focus groups with community members to understand their perspectives on the study topic. We will interview youth, school staff, parents, and broader community members. While schools are at the center of adolescents’ lives, and thus our research, we are committed to taking a broad community based approach to our research. We would welcome invitations to your religious or community organization or to local events.

3. Is it safe for my child to talk about suicide in an interview?

This is a great question, and one that we get all the time.

Studies have repeatedly shown that it is safe to talk to youth about suicide. Talking about suicide or having youth take surveys with questions about suicide does NOT suggest suicide as an option to that individual or trigger the phenomena commonly called “suicide contagion” which is when suicide appears to spread between individuals (which is usually what folks are worried about when asking this question). In fact, some research suggests that asking youth about suicide or talking to youth about suicide can decrease their risk of suicide. We don’t really know why this is. Thomas Joiner, a leading clinical psychologist of suicide, wrote a great book called Myths about Suicide that reviews the research on talking to people about suicide. The National Institute of Mental Health also has a great answer to this question (in fact the entire page provides excellent information on suicide and suicide prevention.)

4. Who are you looking for to participate in the study?

The requirements for participation are:

  • Be affiliated in some way with one of the communities under study

  • Be 13 years or older (Respondents ages 13-17 must have signed parental consent)

  • For youth:

    • Be willing to talk about (1) their experiences growing up in their community; (2) their relationships with friends, family and through social media; (3) about their wellbeing and mental health; and (4) youth suicide (personal experience with suicide is not necessary).

  • For adults:

    • Be adults who interact with youth regularly and play some role (whether formal or informal) in their wellbeing and development.

    • Must be willing to talk about their experiences with youth, youth mental health, and youth suicide.

We believe that the best research on youth mental health in schools and communities takes a broad approach and recognize that many different kinds of people have valuable insights to offer. Thus, if you are in some way affiliated with one of the communities at the center of this study and you want to share insights into the study topic, please reach out.

We also welcome participation from:

    • Youth & young adults who grew up in the community (even if they now live elsewhere)

    • Parents, grandparents, other family members or legal guardians

    • School staff (from the administration, guidance counselors, and school psychologists, to the teachers and classroom aids, to other support staff like janitors and cafeteria workers)

    • Local professionals (e.g., therapists, crisis responders, first responders, physicians, nurses, public health workers, etc.)

    • Community leaders (e.g., from local government, religious organizations, etc.)

    • And beyond!

5. Do I or my child have to participate in this study?

No. Participation is voluntary. Deciding not to participate, or deciding to leave the study later (which you can do at any time), will not result in any penalty or loss of benefits to which they are entitled.

6. Are there any benefits to participating?

There are no benefits to participating for individual participants. However, there may be benefits for society – in the form of knowledge gained – and there may be benefits to your community specifically. We will provide a written report of the findings from our study and will present those findings in public sessions in your community upon completion of the study. We will work with your community to ensure the research contributes to local suicide prevention knowledge and strategies. We will also provide free access to any publications that result from the study.

7. Are there any risks or discomforts to participating?

Even though we take steps to mitigate any risks or discomforts that could result from participating, there are some.

First, you may find some questions we ask you to be upsetting or stressful. To mitigate this risk, you can take a break or stop your participation all together at any time. Additionally, we can tell you about local resources that you can turn to help you with feelings that may arise from participation.

Second, because this study is of a particular place and because of media coverage that has already occurred and because the findings from this study may be used to shape local suicide prevention policies, it is already publicly known that your community is participating in this study. Because of this, your comments may be identifiable, particularly by other members of your community.

To mitigate this risk, we will never identify you by name or confirm that a particular quote came from you. Additionally, we plan to include multiple communities in this study, which may make it harder to identify you from your comments. In publications and presentations, we will use pseudonyms for people and high schools and we will mask any individually-identifying characteristics; however, we plan to reveal the name of the state where the research took place because we feel it would be impossible to hide the state’s identity due to unique features and resources present in Colorado. We may decide to reveal the name of the community in our publications.

Third, there could be risks to your reputation or social status that result from your participation or from sharing particular information. To mitigate this risk, we ask you to consider to consider these potential risks prior to sharing any information. We also welcome you withdrawing any comments you decide you feel uncomfortable with from transcripts of interviews.

Fourth, as with all research, there is a chance that the confidentiality of the information we collect from you could be breached. We have an extensive protocol that reflects best practices in human subjects research to guard against this, but we cannot guarantee complete confidentiality.

8. Why did you select my community?

The communities that are the focus of the study were selected because community leaders were interested and willing to host researchers and because the community has lost youth to suicide in recent years.

9. Will my community be named in publications or presentations that result from this research?

It is already publicly known that your community is participating in this study. Thus we cannot hide the identity of the community. We do plan to use pseudonyms (fake names) for the high schools and all people. We also plan to name the state of Colorado and will consider (as the research unfolds) whether it is best to use pseudonyms for the communities in publications and presentations. We may name the communities (but not the high schools or individual people) in publications.

10. What if I am worried about my child’s mental health? Should they participate?

We believe that parents and children themselves are the best judges of whether or not a youth should participate in this study. If you have doubts or concerns, we encourage you to discuss it with a trusted mental health professional.

FAQ for Observations in Schools

1. Why do you want to observe in schools?

Beyond families, schools are the heart of kids’ social and academic lives. Thus, seeing what the school is like for ourselves and experiencing it as kids experience it, is really important. We are particularly interesting in what the school “feels” like during the day to day experience of schooling. This provides important background and context for the data we collect from one-on-one or group interviews.

We are not be evaluating the effectiveness of teachers or student performance.

2. What kind of information will you write down?

Basically, we are there to take notes about what it is like to be a student at the school. As a part of that, we will write down notes about the school’s climate and culture; any interesting events that occur and how it seems like the kids reacted to them (e.g., a fire drill); the physical space of the school (e.g., how its decorated); and interactions between people.

3. What kind of information will you NOT write down?

We will NOT write down any identifying information, like names of people.

4. Will you disrupt classes?

We will not interfere with students during class time, and our presence should in no way affect a student’s ability to do school work.

FAQ for Interviews

1. If I participate, how will you protect my identity and my confidentiality?

Your study data will be handled as confidentially as possible to the extent allowed by law; however, we cannot guarantee absolute confidentiality.

A pseudonym for you will be used in all presentations and publications that result from this study to protect your identity. We also may change or obscure key details about you to protect your identity. For example, if you are a principal of a high school, we may refer to you as school personnel or if you are the head of an ER we may refer to you as a physician or even just a mental health worker. No information which could identify you will be shared in publications about this study or in databases in which results may be stored.

To minimize the risks to confidentiality during data analysis and data storage, we will store all identifiable data on Indiana University’s secure data servers and all computers with access to this server will be password protected. Additionally, identifying information like names of people will be removed from transcripts and generic identification codes or pseudonyms will be inserted instead. The crosswalk between your name and contact information and your generic identifiers will be stored in an encrypted electronic file that only Dr. Mueller and her research team can access. Identifiable data, like digital recordings, will be destroyed as quickly as possible. Only professional transcription services will be used to generate transcripts from audio-recording of interviews. These transcription services have signed confidentiality agreements with the study investigators. The qualitative transcripts and fieldnotes from this project will be stored indefinitely; however, the crosswalk linking your name to your generic identification code will be destroyed upon the completion of the study.

We may share the data we collect from you for use in future research studies or with other researchers – if we share the data that we collect about you, we will remove any information that could identify you before we share it.

If we think that you intend to harm yourself or others, we will notify the appropriate people with this information. Additionally, while we will not ask about child abuse or neglect, if we find out about child abuse or neglect we will report that information to the appropriate authorities.

2. Will people know that I participated in the study?

If you are a kid, your parents will know you have participated in the study. If you participating in a focus group (or group) interview, the other people in your group interview will know that you participated. Beyond that, we will do everything we can to prevent individuals from knowing that you participated in the study.

There are however three instances when we may have to share information about you. (1) Sometimes we have to provide information to our university’s Institutional Review Board to ensure we are adhering to ethical standards of research. (2) If we discover cases of child abuse, sexual assault, or (3) if you are a danger to yourself or others, we are what’s called “mandatory reporters” and thus obligated to report these things to the appropriate authorities.

3. If my kid participates in your study, can you tell me what they share with you?

No we cannot. Kids have a right to privacy just as adults do. This is part of the professional standards for ethical research with human subjects.

There are exceptions though: if we are worried your child is a danger to themselves or others we will share that information with the appropriate authorities, which may include parents. We have worked with your community to ensure that we have an effective protocol for helping youth we’re concerned about that takes advantage of local resources.

4. If my child does an interview with you, do I also have to participate?

No you do not, though we welcome your participation if you would like to.

5. If I do an interview with you, does my child have to participate?

No they do not, though we welcome their participation if they would like to and you give permission.

6. If I want to do an interview with you, but I am under 18 what do I do?

Reach out to us. We’ll send you the parental permission form, your parent or legal guardian will then sign it and return it to us. We’ll then confirm receipt of the form with your parent or legal guardian and make sure to answer any of their questions about the study, and then reach back out to you to schedule an interview or focus group.

7. What if I want to speak with you, but I’d prefer to do it in a group with my friends?

We welcome that. We conduct “focus group” interviews which are essentially group interviews.

8. Where will interviews and focus groups be held?

All study procedures will take place at a private location of your choosing. You may also opt to conduct the interview via phone or internet and the survey by internet. We can provide private conference rooms in your community where we can hold the interview or focus group.

9. How long do interviews or focus groups take?

They take between 45 minutes to 2 hours. We work with whatever time you can give us, so how long it is depends on you.

10. When can interviews and focus groups be scheduled?

Pretty much any time. We try to be as flexible as possible so that we can work around your schedule.

11. Can you describe the interview process?

The process begins with the informed consent process, where we discuss the research procedures in detail with you and make sure to answer any of your questions. Then the interview begins. The interviewer has questions that they will ask; however, the interview will feel more like a conversation. We will ask you if you are comfortable with us audio-recording the interview. If you’re not, that’s fine; we can just take notes on our conversation. At the end of the interview, you will be asked to fill out a brief survey that asks you questions about your demographic information and, for some respondents, about their mental health.

12. What if you ask a question that I don’t want to answer?

You are always free to not answer any question. We will not press you.

Did we miss a question? Please reach out and ask! We are happy to answer.