Jenny Mathews, contributing writer
It’s an issue that no one wants to discuss but that can’t be ignored. Utah’s youth suicide rate ranks the ninth highest in the nation. With this problem in mind, Dr. Greg Hudnall created Hope Squads in Provo in 2005. Knowing how influential a teen’s circle of friends can be, Dr. Hudnall’s vision was to increase awareness among peer groups and provide training to those willing to be the eyes and ears of the student body. The idea has caught on and has proven to reduce the rate of suicide and suicide attempts among students at schools with Hope Squads. Each year, more and more new squads are formed, and this year they have reached Cache Valley.
Hope Squad members are recommended by fellow students who know them to be kind, compassionate, and trustworthy. Members are taught to recognize suicide warning signs and how to respond when they suspect someone might be struggling. Hope Squad meetings include training Question, Persuade, and Refer (QPR). Members learn what questions to ask, what questions to avoid, and explore the different resources that are useful when the time comes for them to refer someone who has confided in them. As students in Hope Squads are teenagers themselves, they are reassured in their training that they’re not expected to carry the burdens of their classmates or take on the role of counselor, but instead, become gatekeepers, guiding and encouraging fellow teens from a state of despair through the gate of hope. These peers are also an important link between students who are hurting and teachers, counselors, health care providers, and even parents.
At Green Canyon High School in North Logan, the Hope Squad is directed by two student interns, Hailey Maire and Melissa Yardley. Both women have completed required training and attend Hope Squad meetings acting as mentors and supervisors to the student members.
“We are trying really hard to increase awareness and reduce the stigma around discussing suicide by changing some of the language and working closely with the staff and Hope Squad members,” Hailey said.
Melissa and Hailey also work directly with students who are referred to them for mental health issues. Within the Hope Squad, there is a presidency who has taken on the task of organizing and planning their first annual Hope Week, which will be the first week of May. They have also started working with two other budding Hope Squads at Logan and Sky View High School to create awareness and support within the community. Intermountain Healthcare has provided some funding, and the Bear River Health Department has sent professionals to run the training meetings so far.
When a child takes his or her life, the question, “What could I have done?” breaks the heart of all who were within their circle of influence. If you or someone you know could use a little hope, or would like more information on suicide prevention, visit Hope4utah.com, download the SafeUT app, or call the helpline at (800) 273-8255 (TALK) (Spanish speakers call (800) 628-9454). Additional resources may be found at brhd.org, mentalhealth.gov, samsa.gov, afsp.org, nimh.nih.gov and mantherapy.org.