With September being National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the community has been facing some hard facts: suicide is a leading cause of death for adolescents, and statistics continue to rise at an alarming rate. It’s a scary thought that leaves many wondering what can be done to make a change.
Enter Hope Squad, a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program that has been established not only at the Academy but also at several other schools in the Cincinnati area and around the country. Sophomore Yasmeen Porter describes it as “a helpful hand, a friend when you need one, a listener, or a shoulder to cry on.”
Mrs. Hammond, one of the organization’s several moderators, expands: “The purpose of Hope Squad is to provide the student body with a group of peers who are able to help and respond to those who are struggling with emotional issues such as depression and suicide.”
Members of this group were voted on by their classmates at the end of last school year. Since then, they have undergone training that equips them to recognize and react to suicidal behavior.
“Hope Squad has meetings at least once a month in which we are trained on how to respond to different scenarios we might encounter,” explains Stephanie Ahrnsen, ‘20. Fellow senior Anna Voelkerding adds, “We are doing a program called the QPR Institute where we learn to question, persuade, and refer those who are struggling with the thought of harming themselves.”
“I always feel like I am learning something new,” says SUA counselor Mrs. Sherrick of Hope squad. “This program is a chance to bring awareness to the community and to equip students and faculty/staff with the tools to help those who are struggling.”
Another moderator, Mr. Hittle, clarifies Hope Squad’s aim. “The key is to take your concern to someone who can help. Our Hope girls are here to listen and destigmatize, but ultimately they want to take you to our counselors and adult support.”
Students within the program, such as Maya Goertemoeller, ‘20, have expressed growth in their perspectives since their initial participation. “I have learned that mental illness takes on infinitely many different forms, and it looks different for every person who is suffering.”
Other members share similar viewpoints, like senior Isabella Glynn, who notes, “It is very easy for some people to put a mask on and pretend to be okay, so I want to be that person that they don't have to hide things from.”
“I am really excited to see where the girls take this program,” shares Mr. Hittle. “Every time we get together, they have so many ideas to spread hope!”
One way Hope Squad has been carrying out their mission as a support system for the student body is through their Instagram page, @suahopesquad. Each week a new student acts as the account’s administrator, posting photos and quotes to uplift its followers and convey overall positivity.
Recent admin Nicola Settle, ‘21, speaks to this cause: “We want to spread love and awareness and make sure everyone knows that they are worthy of an amazing life.”
Maya also encourages all SUA students to use their voices on social media. “Share positivity and awareness posts such as the ones on the Hope Squad account!”
There are other ways the student body can get involved in suicide prevention. “Just because one is not involved in Hope Squad does not mean that they should quit being kind or trying to support a friend who needs help,” says sophomore Avery Glynn. Her sister Isabella adds, “Be the friend who checks in periodically to see how everyone is doing.” Luci Hittle, ‘22, suggests to students: “Just be kind! A friendly face makes everything just a little bit easier.”
Above all, Hope Squad urges SUA to prioritize self-care. “I know it's easy to get caught up with trying to help other people, but make sure that you're helping yourself as well,” advises Yasmeen. “You can't help others until you've treated yourself properly, with love and appreciation.”
To anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts, Hope Squad wants you to know that you are not alone. “You are loved,” Mrs. Hammond emphasizes. “Know that no matter how much you are struggling or what you are struggling with, there are people here who love you and care for you.”
Luci agrees. “I think I'm speaking for all Bulldogs when I say this: we care about you, we will listen to you, and we will help you if you need help.”
“Feelings are not final,” adds Maya, “and whatever situation you may be going through, you are strong enough to come out of it a tougher person than you were before.”
And if you ever need anyone to talk to, no matter how big or small the issue may seem, know that Hope Squad is ready and willing to listen and offer support.