Diffusion of a Peer-Led Suicide Preventive Intervention Through School-Based Student Peer and Adult Networks

Trevor A. Pickering, Peter A. Wyman*, Karen Schmeelk-Cone, Chelsey Hartley, Thomas W. Valente, Anthony R. Pisani, Kelly L. Rulison, Charles Hendricks Brown, Mark LoMurray

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Background: Peer-led interventions have been applied to prevent various health behavior problems and may be an important complement to individual-level suicide prevention approaches. Sources of Strength trains student “peer leaders” in secondary schools to conduct prevention activities that encourage other students to build healthy social bonds and strengthen help-seeking norms. Prior work examining diffusion of peer-led programs has focused on youths' closeness to peer leaders but minimally on other factors such as connections to adults and suicidal behavior. Methods: We examined implementation and dissemination of Sources of Strength in 20 schools. Over 1 year 533 students were trained as peer leaders and 3,730 9th−12th graders completed baseline surveys assessing friendships and adults at school, and suicidal thoughts/behaviors; and end-of-year surveys reporting intervention exposure: viewed poster/video, attended presentation, direct peer communication, and activity participation. Chi-square tests compared exposure rates by student and network characteristics. Multi-level logistic regression models tested predictors of exposure across individual and school-level characteristics. Results: Exposure to the intervention varied greatly by school and by individual student characteristics and network position. Training more peer leaders increased school-wide exposure for all modalities except presentation (Bs 0.06–0.10, p's < 0.05). In multivariate models, exposure was consistently higher for students closer to peer leaders in the friendship network (ORs 1.13–1.54, p's < 0.05) and students who named more trusted adults (ORs 1.08–1.16, p's < 0.001); and lower for males (ORs 0.56–0.83, p's < 0.05). In multivariate models, training more students as peer leaders predicted exposure to poster-video and direct peer communication in larger schools (OR = 3.34 and 2.87, respectively). Network characteristics influenced exposure similarly for students with suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Discussion: Our findings confirm prior work showing the importance of personal affiliations to peer leaders and natural networks as a medium for diffusion of peer-led prevention efforts. We build on that work by showing independent effects of closeness to adults at school and number of peer leaders trained. There is a need to strategically select peer leaders to maximize closeness to students school-wide, particularly in larger schools. Additional work is required for Sources of Strength to devise messaging strategies to engage males and students isolated from adults at school.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number598
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
StatePublished - Nov 15 2018


  • diffusion of innovations
  • peer leaders
  • peer messaging
  • school intervention
  • social connectedness
  • social networks
  • social support
  • suicide prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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