Sources of Strength peer suicide prevention program comes to Summit High School

Students engage in a team-building activity during the Sources of Strength peer suicide prevention training at Summit High School on Wednesday, Nov. 17.
Summit School District/Courtesy photo

In the wake of two teen suicides in April 2020 at Summit High School, the district is working to bolster mental health supports for students. On Wednesday, Nov. 17, the school hosted an all-day suicide prevention program through Sources of Strength, training 58 students to be peer mentors.

Sources of Strength is a youth suicide prevention project aiming to use peer social networks to change unhealthy norms and culture, with the ultimate goal of preventing suicide, bullying and substance use.

Anna Howden, a psychologist at the high school, said this is the first year the school is working to implement the program, starting with an adult adviser training Tuesday, Nov. 16, followed by the student peer leader training Wednesday. Within the first three years of being in the program, she said Summit High School will have a staff member trained to lead the peer mentor events in the future.

Howden said a key aspect high school officials wanted to see in a new program was student leadership, which drew them to Sources of Strength.

“What kept coming back was that the students were the ones leading the curriculum and deciding what was most important for them to be a positive school climate, then making sure we were trying to represent all student groups and different social pockets of the school,” Howden said.

Sources of Strength aims to create a positive school climate, focused on eight specific areas: physical health, mental health, family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, generosity and spirituality. Howden said students were split into groups to dive into each source and work on team-building activities at the training. Students also shared their own experiences and stories with each piece.

“Now that they’re trained as peer leaders, they’re emboldened to be those agents of change and connectors to help with the program,” Howden said.

Junior Sydney Donovan is one of the newly trained peer leaders and said she likes to help other people and was excited to connect with other students who felt the same way.

“I feel like this way it’s helping others, and I’m also learning how to help myself through tough situations,” Donovan said. “… It was definitely interesting seeing people come together and how even though we’re all … from different backgrounds, if we work together, we really can make a change, especially at school and eventually, hopefully, in the community, as well.”

Donovan said it’s clear mental health at Summit High School and in the community as a whole could be better, especially following the pandemic, and that it’s good to bring in a program like Sources of Strength to help get everyone back on track.

Sophomore Juan Rodriguez also attended the peer leadership training and said it helped him build a stronger sense of community at the high school, speaking to peers he never had the opportunity to work with before. He said he thinks the program can help improve the culture at Summit High School.

“As someone who has struggled with mental health issues, I just (thought) this was a great opportunity to not only learn about myself but help others while doing it,” Rodriguez said.

Howden said she thinks the program is important for the high school because it gives students a voice and changes the narrative around suicide prevention.

“I think if you put a bunch of students in the room and said, ‘Can you tell me warning signs of suicidal ideation or depression in your friends,’ they could tell you all those things,” Howden said. “This is changing that messaging instead of it just being sad, shock and trauma, it is about hope, health and strength and just empowering those students. The more resilience we build, and the more we’re able to tap into our strengths, the better we are in times of sadness.”

Howden said Sources of Strength will hold a training for high school staff sometime in January. She also said the peer leaders will meet twice a month to continue planning to spread the word about the program.


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