$15,000 grant aims to prevent youth suicide, schools develop Hope Squads

Photo by AntonioGuillem / iStock / Getty Images Plus; St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — As part of their efforts to support ongoing mental health awareness and suicide prevention activities, the Iron County Prevention Coalition recently announced they will be using part of a $15,000 grant to help facilitate “Hope Squads” in five Iron County School District schools to address the issue of youth suicide.

The grant was awarded by the National Alliance on Mental Illness Utah. This is the third year the Iron County Prevention Coalition has been awarded a grant from NAMI, coalition coordinator Heidi Baxley said. She is also a prevention specialist for Southwest Prevention, a department of the Southwest Behavioral Health Center which sponsors and houses the Iron County Prevention Coalition.

“I work in drug and alcohol prevention,” Baxley said. “Most people associate prevention with going into the school and teaching kids about drugs and alcohol, which is great, but it doesn’t make as significant change as we were hoping.”

Thus the Iron County Prevention Coalition was born. Specialists still go into the schools, Baxley said, but the coalition incorporates other youth- and family-serving entities in the community. The coalition is made up of approximately 35 people who meet monthly and comprises officials ranging from the school district and law enforcement agencies to the Paiute tribe and 4-H.

The Iron County Prevention Coalition doesn’t only take on drugs and alcohol, and members don’t only work with youth. In fact, part of the NAMI grant will be used for free suicide prevention classes offered to the whole community, Baxley said, with the classes including lunch or dinner.

In addition, the coalition is starting a media campaign with “Man Therapy,” a program targeting middle-aged men that takes a lighter, humorous approach to reducing the stigma of seeking help or treatment.

Read more: Man Therapy combats high suicide rate among Utah men

However, given the coalition’s previous efforts going into the schools, supplementing the school district’s efforts to develop the Hope Squad program seemed to be a logical progression.

“A lot of the risk factors associated with drug and alcohol abuse are also associated with depression and anxiety,” Baxley said.

According to a report from the Utah Department of Health using the most recent data available, suicide is the leading cause of death among youth ages 10-17.

The number of incidents in this age group has nearly tripled since 2007.

Per the report:

In 2015, 24.8 percent of Utah students reported they felt sad or hopeless, 16.6 percent reported they seriously considered attempting suicide, 13.5 percent reported they made a suicide plan, and 7.6 percent reported they attempted suicide one or more times.

Read more: The Utah dichotomy: High rankings in happiness, suicide

Hope Squads

In an effort to address the problem, the Provo School District started the “Hope Squad” program in 2004. Hope Squads comprise students nominated by their peers who are trained to watch for at-risk students. They provide friendship, identify warning signs and seek help from adults.

According to Hope4Utah, 7 out of 10 adolescents struggling with depressive or suicidal thoughts will seek out a friend or trusted peer before confiding in an adult. Hope Squad members are not taught to act as counselors, Hope4Utah says, but rather are educated on how to recognize signs of suicide contemplation and how to properly and respectfully report this to an adult.

To learn more about Hope Squads, go to the Hope4Utah website.

Baxley said she believed the Iron County School District had been wanting to implement Hope Squads for a while.

“But it seemed at the time that all the counselors were so busy and that there were so many other things that they were already doing,” she said.

However, the suicide of a student at Cedar High School made the issue more of a priority.

“I think unfortunately, that really served as a catalyst to get the effort moving,” Baxley said. “Right after that happened, the school district said, ‘Let’s get our schools trained.’

Five of the secondary schools were trained by midway through the 2016-17 school year, Baxley said.

“I think this year in August they’ll actually get the ball rolling on the effort,” she said.

The schools currently trained include Cedar Middle School, Canyon View Middle School, Cedar High School, Canyon View High School and the school district’s alternative high school, Southwest Education Academy. Baxley said she has also reached out to Gateway Preparatory Academy, which goes through eighth grade.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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