Surviving the Teens
August 2011 -- This month two reports from United Press International (UPI) highlighted the work of nurses in research and advocacy aimed at helping teenagers survive the health challenges of that difficult stage of life. An August 13 item reported that research to be published in the Journal of School Health had shown that Surviving the Teens, a curriculum developed by "suicide prevention expert" Cathy Strunk, significantly reduced rates of attempted suicide. The Cincinnati Children's Hospital nurse's curriculum educates teens about the warning signs of potential suicide and how to get help if needed. And an August 4 report described a recent survey by the National Association of School Nurses and Sanofi Pasteur about the risks of meningitis for those aged 11-17. The study found that 82 percent of children in that age group reported engaging in activities that put them at risk of contracting that deadly disease, though most mothers believe their children are at little risk. The UPI piece notes that school nurses urge teens to get vaccinated, but nearly half of teens have not done so. These unsigned items are short and neither includes much detail or expert comment, but they are eye-catching examples of nurses acting as aggressive public health advocates. We thank all those responsible for these reports.
How to Cope
The item about suicide prevention is headlined "Program: Teen depression, suicide drops." It reports that "U.S. researchers" have found that a suicide prevention program has "significantly helped teens overcome depression and thoughts of suicide," a general statement that properly treats nursing innovation and research like any other scientific advance. The piece explains that "Cathy Strunk, a registered nurse and suicide prevention expert at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, developed Surviving the Teens, a curriculum that focuses on educating students about the warning signs of suicide in either themselves or friends, and how they can get help if they or their friends have suicidal feelings." Strunk reportedly taught the curriculum to more than 6,000 Ohio high school students; more than 900 of the students were surveyed before and after the program, and more than 400 were surveyed three months later. The item reports that four key measures of suicide risk dropped significantly, including that attempted suicide decreased 67 percent, from 5.2 percent to 1.7 percent, and that "feeling sad and hopeless" decreased 26 percent, from 22.6 percent of students to 16.8 percent. The item has one quote:
"The overwhelming majority of students felt Surviving the Teens helped them to learn suicide warning signs, suicide and depression risk factors, how to cope with stress, steps to take if they or a friend felt suicidal, and how to talk to their parents and friends," Strunk says in a statement.
The piece concludes by noting that the research is to be published in the September issue of the Journal of School Health.
This UPI item describes important nursing research and advocacy by Strunk. She is helpfully identified as an "expert," and she is credited with developing and implementing the suicide prevention curriculum. The report provides some of the impressive findings of the study, it notes the professional journal in which the research will be published, and it even includes a good quote from Strunk. Of course, more detail would have been even better, but this is a fine report.
For more information on the Surviving the Teens program visit the Cleveland Clinic's website at <http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/service/s/surviving-teens/suicide-prevention-program/>.
Or for additional information contact Cathy Strunk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Urging and advising
The earlier UPI report, "Nurses urge teens to get meningitis vaccine," puts nurses in the headline and leads with a concise statement of the issue: "Most U.S. teens are at risk of getting meningococcal disease but most mothers say their preteen and teenage children are at little risk, a survey indicates." The item explains that the survey, by the National Association of School Nurses and Sanofi Pasteur, shows that most preteens and teens are at risk of getting meningococcal meningitis, "a rare but serious bacterial infection that can cause meningitis and take the life of an otherwise healthy child."
The piece provides some detail about the research. It was a telephone survey conducted by Gfk Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications of about 420 mothers with children ages 11-17 years and 400 children in that age range. Nearly 82 percent of the kids reported "engaging in at least one common everyday activity that can put them at risk for contracting meningitis, such as sharing drinking glasses and water bottles, not getting enough sleep, living in close quarters like dormitories and kissing." The piece does not explain its earlier statement about the beliefs of the mothers.
But the item does give some broader context about the issue. It explains that "school nurses nationwide advise parents vaccination is the best way to help protect young people from meningitis," and that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend vaccination for kids beginning at age 11, with a booster dose by age 18, "but nearly half of U.S. teens are not immunized."
This is a helpful report on nursing research and advocacy. It identifies not only the basic problem--that many teens are at risk for a deadly condition--but also the critical additional factor that their mothers believe the risk is small. The piece also makes clear that nurses are responsible for the research and for advocating (along with the CDC and others) to increase the number of kids who are vaccinated. The piece might have benefited from a little more detail, for instance about the beliefs of the mothers, and it might have included at least one quotation from a nurse involved with the research or expert in the field. Still, this is another short news item that highlights the importance of nursing.
We thank all those responsible for these brief but helpful UPI reports.
See also the UPI's article "Program: Teen depression, suicide drops," published August 13, 2011.
See UPI report, "Nurses urge teens to get meningitis vaccine," published August 4, 2011.