Dozens of Snowy Peaks Junior and Senior High School students gathered together on Friday, May 6, for the last event of Hope Week, a weeklong event of mental health activities aimed at suicide prevention.
Each student received a piece of paper and was tasked with writing down a hardship or struggle they are dealing with. Together, students burned them, letting go of one thing that may be making life more difficult. Friday, or Healthy Coping Day, featured other activities for students to talk about what struggles they may be facing and a potluck of baked goods to share throughout the day. Hope Week was organized by the school’s Hope Squad.
Connor Catron, the school’s social worker, said that Lexi Vaille, a senior last school year, kicked off the idea of Snowy Peaks participating in Hope Squad. She fundraised for the training and helped with Hope Squad selection.
“We asked all of our students to just identify who is up here that you feel comfortable talking to, has your back or is going to be on the lookout for you and for your mental health,” Catron said. “They really elevated a few of their peers and that was the foundation of our Hope Squad, and then we’ve added some more members kind of throughout this year as well.”
In total, 17 Snowy Peaks students make up the Hope Squad. The group met with their advisers throughout the school year to receive training on how to be a responsible mental health advocate in their school and to prepare for Hope Week. Hope Squad members also check in with their peers who may be showing signs of emotional trouble and refer them to resources they may need.
JZ Fletes, an 11th grader, said that just simply spreading awareness of resources to her fellow students has been one of her favorite parts of Hope Squad.
“I think that we got so much respect from other students,” Fletes said. “I think that it’s such a serious topic to all of us, because we’re all dedicated to that. We just tried to make everyone feel better and have a better week from all the chaos going on from testing.”
Keeley Wilson, an eighth grader, said she joined Hope Squad because she wanted her friends to realize the seriousness of mental illness.
“Part of the reason why I joined Hope Squad is because I’ve had a couple of friends trying to joke about, ‘Oh, I want to commit suicide or kill myself,’ and I just think that’s not very funny,” Wilson said . “There’s a lot of people who take that seriously. I have ended up having to actually call the Safe2Tell crisis lines with them because it was taken too far.”
Hope Squad is a school-based, peer-to-peer suicide prevention program that has been in schools across the nation since 1999. Initially beginning in Utah after there were concerns about suicide in a school district, Hope Squad has expanded across 30 states and Canada, meaning that over 950 schools have adopted the program. The Hope Squad for each school has several goals, including creating a safe school environment, promoting connectedness, supporting anti-bullying, encouraging mental wellness, reducing mental health stigma and preventing substance misuse.
Hope Squad follows the Circles4Hope community model, which involves the collaboration of the entire community through community connections, school programs and mental health partnerships. The program is also available to Veterans Affairs, businesses, active military and youth detention centers.
Justin Holmes, a social studies teacher who helped organize Hope Week with students, said that students also receive QPR training, or Question, Persuade and Refer. This suicide intervention technique allows students to know how to handle approaching a peer who may need more immediate attention.
“It’s just being proactive,” Holmes said. “It’s not like we have like a ton of suicidal kids here, but it’s more like, ‘Let’s get that child the help they need as soon as they need it,’ versus them just suffering in silence, day after day. When a peer steps in, the research shows that peers are more likely to talk to another peer about what’s actually going on versus talking to an adult.”
Catron and Holmes both said that this week was for connecting students to Hope Squad members and opportunities to talk about mental health. The activities took a “challenge by choice” method, meaning students participated in activities where they personally felt comfortable.
On Monday, May 2, students kicked off the week with emotional mask painting and had the opportunity to send a message of positivity to a fellow student. Tuesday was a day for holistic health, or understanding the connection between physical and mental health. Members of the school community were encouraged to wear yellow and the day featured meditation sessions. Wednesday had sessions to learn about mental health topics, including how to navigate mental health resources and a session about how to help someone through a mental health crisis. Thursday was Self Expression Day, where students learned how to openly express themselves with a photo booth and more messages of positivity.
By Friday, several Hope Squad members said they felt relieved that it was so well received by their classmates, and they were happy to let each other know that they always had a peer to reach out to.
“If you’re in kind of a hard spot, even having one person can mean the difference,” middle schooler Emmi Brunner said. “I want to be that one person.”