“This is really the first peer-leader program that has shown impact on school-side coping norms and the influence of youth connectedness.” Peter Wyman, a psychiatry professor at the University of Rochester, NY and one of the authors of a three year study in the “American Journal of Public Health” that looked at the effectiveness of “Sources of Strength”
Depression and despair are terrible things. Besides stating the obvious and making the understatement of the year, let me also add another given, they are perhaps worse in the teen years. Do you remember then? You’re young, hormonal, vulnerable, inexperienced, grasping to assert your identity and autonomy from your parents, but so completely unprepared for the world and all its demands. Throw depression and perhaps mental illness into the mix and you have a ripe mix for potential tragedy. Suicide and suicidal tendencies are no joke for today’s teens. It is the third leading cause of death among 15-to 19 year-olds. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, 17% of American high school students report having seriously considered suicide
This is where the program “Sources of Strength” is incredible! Featured in a recent article at the NPR website, entitled “Preventing Suicide With a Contagion of Strength”. “Sources of Strength” is a 15 year old, research backed suicide prevention program that focuses on developing strengths in teen lives. Researchers and advocates state that it is one of the few programs that has research behind it showing it can work.
Skilled national trainers come into schools and teach the principles of the program to student leaders, who then meet with their peers. The idea is that students will listen better to other students “preach it,” as opposed to adults. Teachers, administrators, and parents are part of the picture, but in the background as adult advisers. It is rooted in developing and promoting eight strengths: family support, positive friends, spirituality, healthy activities, medical access, mentors, mental health, and generosity. Similar to the premises of the Search Institute’s Developmental Assets, the idea is the more of these strengths that are in place, the greater a teen is protected from suicidal behavior. Peer mentors have these principles as a framework when they sit down with classmates. The students meet and discussion problems and stressors in their lives. In sharing personal stories about overcoming adversity and difficulties, each person in the dialogue is helping the other do the same. Connection and demonstrating understanding is everything!
Currently, the program is now in more than 250 and community centers in 20 states. It has a price tag of about $5,000 per school. While not cheap, certainly the suicides rates in this country among our young and the suicidal tendencies that exist among teens, should make it a priority in every district. One life lost is one too many…..