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Rural Health Information Hub

Hope Squad

Summary 
  • Need: To reduce youth suicide rates.
  • Intervention: First begun in Utah, Hope Squad is a nationwide program that trains youth to look after their classmates and refer those with suicidal thoughts or other mental health concerns to adult advisors.
  • Results: Studies suggest that Hope Squad schools' students with suicidal thoughts are more likely than non-Hope Squad schools' students to solicit help. In addition, stigma surrounding mental illness is decreasing.

Description

Rural youth suicide rates are 54% higher than those in urban areas.

Youth across the country are more likely to share suicidal thoughts with their peers than with adults, and these peers are more likely to keep these concerns to themselves instead of telling an adult.

A nonprofit program called Hope4Utah has been working since 1999 to break this silence in rural and urban communities in Utah. In 2004, Hope4Utah implemented Hope Squad, a school-based peer leadership program in which students learn how to identify warning signs of suicide or other mental health concerns in their peers and alert adults to those students who may be at risk of hurting themselves. Students nominate trustworthy and helpful peers to become Hope Squad members. The program has expanded to almost 2,500 schools in the United States and Canada.

Hope Squad Executive Director and students

Along with local mental health agencies, Hope Squad partners with the QPR Institute (Question. Persuade. Refer.) to train Hope Squad advisors.

Services offered

Schools select staff members to serve as advisors. Oftentimes, the advisor is a school counselor, but school psychologists, social workers, parents, teachers, and other staff members may fulfill this role. Some schools select a total of 2 to 3 advisors, while other schools select one advisor per grade level involved.

The Hope Squad curriculum is taught through lessons, which are available in a three-year integration program for elementary schools, a three-year program for middle schools, a four-year program for high schools, and a two-year program for colleges. The elementary curriculum focuses on mental wellness, bullying, and resilience. The curriculum for junior high and high school includes the following:

  • Hope Squad Fundamentals: Select and train advisors and students on the basics of mental wellness and suicide prevention.
  • Hope Squad Essentials: Deepen members' understanding of mental health topics, such as resiliency and grief.
  • Hope Squad Connections: Encourage members to share what they learn with the school's student body through schoolwide activities and to train family members and the community.
  • Hope Squad Growth: Empower members to move forward with their skills and knowledge of mental health and suicide prevention.

In addition to elementary and secondary schools, Hope Squad has been implemented in colleges, Veterans Affairs facilities, and businesses.

Results

Hope Squad is listed on the Suicide Prevention Resource Center's Best Practices Registry.

A 2018 study from Brigham Young University and the University of Utah suggests that Hope Squad schools' students with suicidal thoughts are more likely than non-Hope Squad schools' students to solicit help from their parents, and Hope Squad schools' students with previous suicide attempts are more likely to solicit help from any adult.

Hope Squad currently evaluates the training outcomes as well as burnout among Hope Squad members. These data were recently published confirming that the Hope Squad curriculum is effective in improving members' knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy. In addition, Hope Squad members experienced low burnout and stress when assisting peers.

The Hope Squad program also collects suicide concern contact data from Hope Squad advisors. These data are collected after advisors and/or school counselors meet with students who have suicide concerns. An analysis of these data shows that Hope Squads are referring approximately 25%-30% of all students seeing their counselors for suicide-related distress and that 14% of those referred are getting hospitalized. In addition, longitudinal trends indicate an increase in student self-referrals and other referrals.

According to the Ohio Hope Squad Comparison Study:

  • Hope Squad schools have less suicide-related stigma than other schools
  • Hope Squad referrals are helping the most at-risk students, and those youth are getting the immediate and appropriate care they need
  • Stigma among boys in Hope Squad schools decreased compared to non-Hope Squad schools
  • Hope Squad schools had significantly more referrals from all students compared to non-Hope Squad schools

For more information about this program:

Wright-Berryman, J.L., Thompson, D., & Cramer, R.J. (2022). Reducing Suicide-Related Stigma through Peer-to-Peer School-Based Suicide Prevention Programming. Children & Schools, 44(4), 216-223. Article Abstract

Wright-Berryman, J., Hudnall, G., Bledsoe, C., & Lloyd, M. (2019). Suicide Concern Reporting among Utah Youths Served by a School-Based Peer-to-Peer Prevention Program. Children & Schools, 41(1), 35-44. Article Abstract

Wright-Berryman, J., Hudnall, G., Hopkins, R., & Bledsoe, C. (2018). Hope Squads: Peer-to-Peer Suicide Prevention in Schools. Children & Schools, 40(2), 125-126. Article Abstract

Challenges

  • Gaining buy-in from administrators and the community
  • Securing enough time and funding for rural schools to receive and complete training
  • Breaking down the myth that you can't talk about suicide
  • Ensuring parents and administrators that Hope Squad is not teaching students to act as counselors; instead, it teaches students to act as a bridge to counselors.

Replication

Steps to starting a Hope Squad:

  • Secure administrator approval
  • Select Hope Squad advisors (selected advisors attend Licensed Advisor Training)
  • Partner with the community and mental health facilities
  • Educate staff and secure support
  • Nominate Hope Squad members
  • Educate Hope Squad parents and get approval
  • Conduct a pre-survey
  • Train Hope Squads with evidence-based curriculum
  • Organize a Hope Week and other schoolwide activities to spread mental health awareness
  • Conduct a post-survey
  • Submit referral data

Schools interested in QPR or Hope Squad advisor training can travel to Provo, Utah, or schedule to have instructors provide training in their community. Hope Squad provides an advisor training manual and Hope Squad curriculum. The curriculum is designed for 30- to 40-minute trainings each month, although advisors can adapt the time frame as needed.

Hope Squad students are not trained to be counselors. Instead, students are expected to listen to their peers and then take their concerns to Hope Squad advisors and other trusted adults.

Contact Information

Cathy Bledsoe, Assistant Director
Hope4Utah
Hope Squad
801.854.7374
cathy@hope4utah.com

Topics
Children and youth
Mental health
Schools
Suicide and suicide prevention

States served
National/Multi-State, Utah

Date added
March 27, 2017

Date updated or reviewed
June 25, 2024

Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub, 2024. Hope Squad [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/project-examples/948 [Accessed 15 July 2024]


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