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What a Utah student learned in Hope Squad helped her save a friend’s life

“We learn how to take care of ourselves and take care of other people at the same time.”

(Photo courtesy of Maddie) Maddie, a high school student who is president of the Hope Squad at her school and Utah’s representative on the Hope Squad National Council, says she and her peers are “the eyes and ears of the school. ”

This is part of it a series of interviews with young Utahns making a meaningful impact on their community’s – and their own – mental health. read more.

In Utah, suicide is the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 17 and for people between the ages of 18 and 24.

The Hope Squad – founded more than 25 years ago by a Utah executive – teaches students how to stand up for themselves and their peers. At the secondary level, students are taught QPR, which stands for asking, persuading and referring.

“Hope Squad is the eyes and ears of the school,” said Maddie, a high school student who is president of her school’s Hope Squad and Utah’s representative on the Hope Squad National Council. “They are not therapists, but they help their peers get the mental health care they need.”

The experiment began in 1999 and eventually expanded to every school in the Provo City School District. Today, there is a Hope Squad in thousands of schools across the United States and Canada. And according to founder Greg Hudnall, this effort has resulted in thousands of students being referred for help and a dramatic drop in the suicide rate in the Provo City School District.

Volmar says her six years with Hope Squad changed her approach to mental health – and helped her save a life. This Q&A with her has been edited for length and clarity.

Sara Weber: What made you want to get involved with Hope Squad? When did that start?

Maddie: I heard about it in sixth grade, when the SBOs (student officers) and members of the junior high Hope Squad came to try to recruit us. Within about a month I started seeing the warning signs I heard about from a friend of mine. I followed the steps of my QPR training and was able to refer him to a counselor, which ultimately saved his life.

What challenges do you face in your work with the Hope Squad?

There’s a bit of a stigma surrounding Hope Squad; people don’t quite understand what it is. It can seem like Hope Squad is turning people into a project… they don’t see it as real. There are also some misunderstandings about referring people to get the help they need. So there’s an element of pushing past the stigma, both around mental health and Hope Squad.

How do you avoid those stigmas?

Whenever someone asks me about (Hope Squad), I just correct them. We work a lot with our administration. And they also support us in our activities. Their support allows us to appear more legitimate to the school.

We also undertake activities for the school aimed at destigmatising mental health. We are organizing a Kahoot! (a game-based learning platform) that can break some myths for students, or we hand out flyers or we do activities that teach a lesson about it.

Can you tell me about the impact you’ve seen from the work you do?

I have seen me and my friends grow enormously as people. I’ve also seen lives saved, which is really cool. It’s hard to have these conversations, but as we work together, we learn how to take care of ourselves and take care of other people at the same time.

Is that something you have noticed in yourself too?

Certainly. Hope Squad has made me very aware. At school I look around me, I see people who are alone. And I don’t think I necessarily did that before joining Hope Squad. No matter what situation I find myself in, I find myself looking for people who might need a friend.

I’ve also been able to check in on my own mental health, which I really appreciate.

Do you think mental health challenges are unique to Utah, unique to your age group, or are they more widespread?

I think almost everyone struggles with mental health to some degree. But I also feel like it’s a Utah-specific problem. I’ve seen a lot of statistics about Utah – the youth suicide rate is higher than the national average – and I know it’s a very big problem in Utah. I’m very happy that we have Hope Squad and that we have resources like SafeUT available here.

What advice do you have for other young people interested in this type of mental health work?

To get involved with Hope Squad specifically, it is a peer nomination process. If your school does not have a Hope Squad, contact your administrator or contact a school counselor or teacher who you think would be a good counselor.

Is there anything else you want people to know?

Anyone can be a mental health advocate simply by being a good friend, becoming educated about mental health resources, and being aware of the people in your life and offering them support when they that need.

What tools do you recommend?

The Hope Squad website is great. Downloading the SafeUT app goes well. There’s makeitok.org, which is also really great.

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