By SKY REYNOLDS
Hope Squad will be launching in 2020 at UHS in order to promote mental health awareness and implement suicide prevention procedures.
Hope Squad is a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program that will identify and aid students who may be struggling emotionally or experiencing suicidal thoughts. Hope Squad members will teach students how to mitigate stress and productively cope with their circumstances, as well as educate students and faculty at UHS on how to build a stronger and more positive community.
“A lot of the time, students, when having thoughts of hurting themselves or when they are really suffering from a condition like anxiety or depression, talk to their peers much more than they may talk to their parents or teachers,” Wellness Counselor Nilou Tohidian said, who is vital in the development and oversight of the program at UHS.
Additionally, Hope Squad will also work to implement procedures after a crisis or traumatic event to reduce the impact and risk of suicidal tendencies for those who are affected.
A study by Harvard University found that 35% of youth suicides occurred within 24 hours of a traumatic event. A suicide or unexpected death of a parent, friend, fellow student, or teacher may cause an increased risk of self-inflicted harm or suicide among vulnerable students.
UHS’s Hope Squad will consist of around twenty students, and will partner with local mental health support both on and off-campus. Some of these include Irvine Family Resources, the Pacific Asian Outpatient Clinic, the Hurtt Clinic, University Clinic, CHOC Hospital, individual therapists, and many more.
All information shared with counselors and members of the team will remain completely confidential and will not be shared unless the student is putting themselves or others at risk. No information gathered from an at-risk student can or will legally be shared without parental consent.
Resources for Hope Squad members will be available to ease the effects of having to discuss heavy subjects with students and to help to reduce potential emotional burnout.
The Hope Squad program started in Utah in 2004 by the Provo City School District and was successful in preventing suicides according to statistics. The program spread to other schools and districts across the country. Some other IUSD schools have already launched their own Hope Squad programs, such as Woodbridge and Portola High School.
Tohidian, English teacher Ms. Raechl Kynor, and DHH psychologist Ms. Jamie Evans, will be training students by meeting up with them on set dates during school hours and discussing their role as a member of Hope Squad. Members will be educated on how to identify at-risk students, identify signs of suicidal thoughts and how they can properly and respectfully help students seek help and report to adults.
Some students, such as junior Kevin Yang, expressed concern about having students counsel other students, but were mostly optimistic.
“If [Hope Squad members] do it wrong they could actually make the situation worse,” Yang said, “but generally if you give students a basic idea of how to help others, it will probably be a pretty good program.”
Other students however, such as sophomore Travis Nguyen, were doubtful that Hope Squad would be more helpful than the mental health resources already available on campus.
“Hope Squad would be kind of nice. If [students] open up to you it’s good, but if they don’t open up to you it would be kind of useless,” Nguyen said.
According to Tohidian, UHS’s administration hopes that individuals participating in the Hope Squad program will facilitate a greater acceptance for students looking for help and work to change student culture regarding stigmas around seeking help and talking about mental health to ultimately break the school’s unspoken code of silence.