Find Help, Find Hope!

Spreading messages of hope, health and strength to help prevent suicide

By Megan Pauly

NAMI MC staff partnered with umttr to participate in the International Convention of United Synagogue Youth in Baltimore recently, educating the students about an evidence-based suicide prevention program called Sources of Strength so they could bring the program to their respective schools and synagogues. Around 70 kids from across the world participated.

Sources of Strength utilizes the power of peer social networks to change unhealthy norms, increase connectedness, and increase help-seeking behavior to ultimately prevent suicide, bullying, and substance abuse. It is one of the nation’s most rigorously researched peer leader programs and is on SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices – the nation’s highest level of prevention programs.

According to the World Health Organization, mental illness is the leading cause of disability and research has shown that half of all lifetime cases of mental disorders begin by age fourteen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth ages ten to twenty-four. For every death by suicide there are twenty-five attempts. Over ninety percent of youth that die by suicide have a mental disorder.

Sources of Strength addresses these needs by empowering youth to change unhealthy attitudes toward adults and helps them learn to rely on protective factors that help in times of need. Sources of Strength works because students are the driving force of the program. Peer leaders are trained to be connecters within their peer networks: agents of change. Adult advisors are identified to guide the students in their Sources of Strength activities.

All Sources of Strength meetings have one part fun, one part sharing, and one part planning. The fun is achieved through quick team-building games and lots of laughter. The sharing portion creates bonding and trust among peers and adults. It also helps peer leaders use Sources of Strength language and concepts as they describe their own ups and downs in life. Stories that are shared touch the hearts of peer leaders and motivate them to reach out to their peers and stay involved. The planning portion is for determining how the peer leaders will circulate these protective factors to the rest of their school and community. Peer leaders are given creative leeway to create messages and activities that will resonate with their peers. Adult advisors are there to help guide the peer leaders in the creation of these campaigns and ensure that they embody the Sources of Strength philosophy of hope, help, and strength instead of focusing on sad, shock, and trauma-based messaging.