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'Falcons fly together': Lincoln Northwest students spread suicide awareness with Hope Squads
The Lincoln Journal Star - 9/13/2023
Sep. 13—Keep going. You matter. Have hope.
These phrases were written over and over again in the varying scrawls of students at Lincoln Northwest High School on pink and blue hearts taped to a brick hallway wall.
"Life is filled with ups and downs, keep going," one heart read.
"It's OK," another said. "I'm proud of you."
"We support you, stay strong, you've got this," more students wrote.
"I have hope for the Lincoln Northwest student body."
The notes, which were written by each of the 900-plus students at the high school in honor of National Suicide Prevention Month, varied in content, but the message was clear: No Northwest Falcon will have to walk alone.
This is a message one group of students is working to ensure is heard by every student — loud and clear.
Nearly 20 students at Northwest represent the first class of Hope Squad members dedicated to advocating for student mental health, promoting suicide prevention and, most of all, spreading hope.
Sack the stigma, they say, because Falcons fly together.
Hope Squads is a peer-led program that was created in Utah in 2004 and has since been implemented in more than 1,600 schools across the nation — including every middle and high school at Lincoln Public Schools starting last spring, although the club has already been in some LPS schools for years.
Squad members are chosen through a nomination process that allows students to choose who they think would be a good person for fellow students to reach out to for help.
"We want to be a part of the people that show the rest of the Northwest students and our peers that nothing is wrong with them," said Feryal Akpo-Idrissou, a senior Hope Squad member at Northwest. "If they want help, they can get help."
In honor of September being National Suicide Prevention Month, the group sold purple and teal T-shirts, two colors representative of suicide awareness, at the start of the month, and plans to pass out bracelets and informational cards about suicide prevention at school sporting events throughout September. On each is the new national suicide hotline number created in 2022, 988.
Several members of the squad created a video Wednesday morning to spread awareness about the cause that will be played to the whole high school Friday, something Quinn Waring, a senior member of the Hope Squad at Northwest who helped film the video, hopes has a big impact on other students.
"I'm hoping that we can really show that talking about it is OK and that we can work together to get through mental health," Waring said. "You can look at someone and think they're doing just fine, but on the inside they're not."
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in Nebraskans ages 10-24, and the state ranks 28th in the nation for its suicide death rate of 14.86 suicides per 100,000 people, according to 2020 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The implementation of Hope Squads is just one step in the battle to prevent suicide, but Waring is confident it's already helping students across the school.
"Even if they haven't reached out to me, that doesn't mean they haven't reached out to other people that they need," he said. "I just think it's a good way to remind them to reach out to someone because in those hard times, it is hard to reach out."
LPS provides suicide assessments for students who are talking about or considering suicide to help them receive the resources they need, said Andrea Phillips, a social work coordinator at LPS who helped launch Hope Squads in the district.
Last year, they had 1,500 assessments completed by students, a number that grows each year, Phillips said.
"We see that as both a good and a bad thing," Phillips said. "We don't want people to be struggling, but we want them to reach out to people and get connected."
Phillips said one of her biggest goals with the program is to connect struggling students with a trusted adult, whether that be a community member, teacher or someone in their family. From there, students can be connected with a therapist or counselor if they're in need of additional mental health services.
But Phillips predicts students will reach out to other students before approaching an adult, which is where the Hope Squad comes in.
"One of the biggest benefits is the awareness that is brought to suicide and mental health. I think the way that that's done through peers is really the best way for it to be done," Phillips said. "We know that kids listen to their friends, we know that they seek advice from their friends."
Even when Suicide Awareness Month comes to a close and September rolls into October and the school year continues on, Hope Squads across LPS will continue their work to end the stigma around suicide and be there for their peers.
"I foresee that they'll continue to spread that awareness," Phillips said. "They will continue to be visible at those different events, just really spreading the message of hope, making sure that kids know that there is hope."
If you or a loved one need assistance, call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat at 988Lifeline.org.
Reach Jenna Ebbers at 402-473-2657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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