Hope Squad: ‘Our world needs each and every one of us’

Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in the United States since 1949.

Every year during the month of May, the National Alliance on Mental Illness joins the national movement to raise awareness about mental health, working together to fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for policies that support the millions of people in the United States affected by mental illness.

According to the 2022 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report on the nimh.nih.gov website, nearly 20% of children and young people ages 3 to 17 in the United States have a mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder, and suicidal behaviors among high school students increased more than 40% in the decade before 2019.

In an effort to reduce youth suicide through education, training and peer intervention, Hope Squad was implemented in 2021 at Seymour High School.

The organization 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.

Those students are then trained 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.

Celeste Bowman, a Jobs for America’s Graduates specialist and Hope Squad adviser at SHS, said Hope Squad has had a good year. The group is up to 33 members, and everyone has been more active than previous years.

“The students sponsored Hope Week this year, and the activities for the week included a door classroom decorating contest (promote hope) and random encouraging notes left in classrooms on desks,” Bowman said. “Hope Squad visited every classroom to give Lifesavers (the Hope Squad logo) and cards with 988 information.”

She said Amanda Stepanik’s fifth block class won doughnuts for winning the door decorating contest.

“I am really excited that four or five of the students that attended the Ignite conference have joined Hope Squad,” she said of a recent 4-H youth summit. “They are Hispanic and they are bringing a new perspective and new ideas to our squad. They are providing us with an opportunity to reach and serve another demographic in our school and community.”

Bowman said Karla Guerrero, a teacher at SHS, is now a sponsor of Hope Squad and is a welcome addition to the group.

“Her caring and compassionate nature fits perfectly with the mission of Hope Squad, and she is bilingual, English/Spanish, which provides additional opportunities for activities,” she said.

Bowman said she would like to encourage everyone to take the time to take care of themselves and their mental health.

“There is no shame in seeking help when it is needed, and our community and our world needs each and every one of us,” she said. “You are important.”

Molly Marshall, health and human sciences educator for Purdue Extension Jackson County, was involved with the ALIVE Suicide Prevention coalition with Mental Health America of Jackson County that brought Hope Squad to SHS in 2021.

She said mental health is and continues to be an area of focus of work they do at Purdue Extension and in the community.

“I would encourage everyone to reach out and connect with others, both formally and informally, know the resources we have available in our community and consider getting involved with something you are passionate about,” Marshall said. “We need volunteers and involvement in our community.”

She said the COVID-19 pandemic was not easy and we are still seeing the effects, especially around mental health, in children, teens and adults.

“May is Mental Health Awareness Month and a good reminder to take care of yourself and others, and if you see someone struggling, call or text 988 any time 24 hours a day,” she said. “Help is available, and you will speak to someone who is trained to deal with someone in a suicidal crisis or having emotional distress.”

She said with 988, callers will be directly connected to talk with a trained crisis specialist 24/7, whether it is for yourself or someone you are worried about with mental health distress. Whether it is thoughts of suicide, a mental health or substance use crisis or any kind of emotional distress, just call or text 988.