Suicide prevention program begins at high school

Anew program is being implemented at Seymour High School in an effort to reduce youth suicide through education, training and peer intervention.

Hope Squad was created in 2004 by Dr. Gregory A. Hudnall, a high school principal in the Provo City School District in Utah after he had dealt with the loss of students to suicide during his tenure.

The squad is a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program where students are nominated by their classmates as trustworthy peers and trained by advisers.

Celeste Bowman, a Jobs for America’s Graduates specialist at Seymour High School, led a Hope Squad parent training class Thursday night at the school.

“A component of JAG is community service, but it’s community service that the students choose and they decide what they want to do with it,” Bowman said. “Several years in a row, the initiative has had to do with mental health, bullying prevention and suicide prevention. Then Melanie O’Neal of Mental Health America reached out and told me about the Hope Squad.”

Hope Squad is a partnership between Seymour High School, JAG and Mental Health America of Jackson County.

“We’re all working together to help fund the program, and there is written curriculum that we use for the training, and we want to make it the best experience we can for the students,” Bowman said.

Bowman is one of four advisers who will be working with the squad, which is just beginning to form. Other adults helping with the group are Seymour Community School Corp. employees Shawna Boas and Eva Auleman and Mike Lyon, pastor of family life at First Baptist Church in Seymour.

“About 35 students at the high school have been nominated by their peers, but we don’t have the numbers yet as to how many of those students are going to join,” Bowman said. “The parents must sign off on a form, and tonight’s meeting is explaining to the parents what Hope Squad is about so they can decide if this will be a good fit for their student because we get into some pretty heavy stuff.”

She emphasized they are not training the students to be therapists or counselors.

“We need them to be the eyes and ears of the school, and that’s what they’ll be trained to do,” Bowman said.

Hope Squad trains students to recognize suicide warning signs and act upon those warnings to break the code of silence, build positive relationships among peers to facilitate acceptance for seeking help and change the school culture regarding suicide by reducing stigmas about suicide and mental health.

“We’ll train the students in QPR, which stands for question, persuade and refer,” Bowman said. “It means to listen to what a fellow student has to say, pick up on the warning signs and try to get them to go talk to a school counselor or their parent, and if they won’t do that, the squad member is that trusted person who will do what’s right and tell an adult.”

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a recent rise in adolescent suicide attempts.

The increase began in May 2020. Then during February and March of this year, emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts were more than 50% higher among girls ages 12 to 17 than during the same period in 2019, according to the study. For boys of the same age, the increase was just under 4%.

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, from 2011 to 2015, suicide was the second-leading cause of death in the 15 to 34 age group and the third leading cause of death among those 10 to 14.

Bowman said her oldest son graduated from SHS in 2015 and is now 25 years old. She said he knows of at least five people, if not more, who have died by suicide. In comparison, the first time someone she knew died by suicide, Bowman was 30 years old.

Emily Sommers, a counselor at Jennings County High School, also is a member of the ALIVE coalition, which was formed in the fall of 2018 under the umbrella of Mental Health America of Jackson County.

ALIVE stands for awareness, listening, informative, vigilance and engaged. The group typically meets once a month, and its mission is to reduce the suicide rate in Jackson County.

Sommers started Hope Squad at Jennings County High School in the 2019-20 school year.

Sommers said research has shown students are the first to know about suicide risks in friends but tragically have chosen not to tell an adult.

Young people are already intervening with suicidal friends thinking they are the only ones with enough trust to deal with the situation. The goal is for the Hope Squad students to be a link to a responsible adult or link them to the resources they need.

Seymour High School sophomore Macy Casner was at Thursday night’s meeting with her parents, Monty and Missy Casner.

Macy was one of the students chosen by peers as someone they would feel comfortable talking to about a problem.

“We signed the papers the first day we got them,” Missy said. “We were really excited about it, and she has been like that, caring about other students, for a long time.”

Missy recalled when Macy was in third grade and played basketball, she was so concerned about any of the girls who got hurt playing, and she has always had that caring, considerate nature.

“I was really surprised that I had been nominated, but I do try to be as kind as possible to everyone,” Macy said. “I usually stay in my own circle of friends, but if anyone speaks to me, I’ll talk to them.”

Veira Robbins, a senior at the high school, was at the meeting with her grandmother, Edna Robbins.

“I am really excited about this and wish we would’ve had one when I was in middle school because that’s when I was really struggling and didn’t have the support that I needed,” Veira said. “So I’m going to give support to the students that need it now because they’re younger than me and feel like maybe can look up to me.”

As to how she feels about her peers voting for her to be on the Hope Squad, Veira said she feels very honored they think they can come talk to her.

For information about Hope Squad, visit hopesquad.com. Students and parents who have questions may email Bowman at [email protected]