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A survey carried out in recent years among students at 12 vocational high schools across the country paints a disturbing picture of attempted suicide among teens. The initial findings will be presented at a conference this week organized by the Israel Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Association.

According to the study's initial findings, 9.7 percent of the 1,200 respondents reported that they had attempted suicide in the past; 12.1 percent reported having suicidal thoughts in the two weeks prior to filling out the questionnaire; and 6.8 percent of these reported having made plans to carry out their suicidal thoughts.

Of the students who reported attempting suicide, 34 percent required medical treatment. One quarter of those who reported having attempted suicide said they had done so more than once.

Respondents who reported a recent suicide attempt or severe suicidal ideation were referred to guidance counselors at their schools.

The study was funded by the European Union and conducted by Prof. Alan Apter, Director of the E. Richard Feinberg Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Schneider Children's Medical Center of Israel and among Israel's leading psychiatrist suicide researchers, in cooperation with Dana Feldman, a doctoral candidate at Bar-Ilan University.

Apter said the figures in the study were probably similar to those at other types of Israeli high schools and correlated with the results of similar studies in Western countries.

The study evaluated various methods of identifying adolescents at risk of suicide and found the most effective to be a questionnaire with just two questions: one designed to identify severe suicidal thinking, and the other to identify previous suicide attempts. "This method is simple and inexpensive to implement, and follow-up study will determine the credibility of the initial results," the researchers concluded. According to Apter, "Most studies examine adolescents with suicidal tendencies who were admitted to the emergency room. But more disturbing are the cases of adolescents who are at high risk for suicide who are unknown in their schools. A brief questionnaire can contribute significantly to identifying them."

The Health Ministry is launching a pilot suicide prevention program in Rehovot, Ramle and Kafr Kana and at Social Affairs Ministry boarding schools, in which teachers, guidance counselors and preschool teachers will be trained to identify children and adolescents who are at risk of suicide. After the pilot program ends, at the end of 2011, a national program to reduce suicides is to be formulated and implemented.

According to Health Ministry figures, the number of suicide attempts has risen slightly in recent years, while the number of actual suicides has dropped. Of all suicide attempts by adult men, 37 percent are by men aged 24 and younger; women in this age group account for 48 percent of all suicide attempts by women. Ministry figures point to a 20 percent and 40 percent increase, respectively, in the number of suicide attempts among Israeli Arab women and men in recent years.