- Need: To reduce youth suicide rates.
- Intervention: 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: Surveys reveal higher help-seeking behavior in schools with Hope Squads than schools without. They also indicate that Hope Squad members increase and retain their knowledge of suicide and increase help-seeking behaviors after completing training.
A 2015 JAMA Pediatrics study indicates that youth suicide rates in rural areas across the country are almost double 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 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 16 states and Canada.
Along with local mental health agencies, Hope Squad partners with the QPR Institute (Question. Persuade. Refer.), which provides training to school staff members to become Hope Squad advisors.
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 can fulfill this role as well. 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 called PHASEs (Promoting Hope and Student Empowerment), 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 safe and unsafe secrets, bullying, and resilience. The curriculum for junior high and high school includes the following program:
- Hope Squad Fundamentals: Select and train advisors and students.
- Hope Squad Essentials: Deepen members' understanding of mental health issues, such as resiliency and grief.
- Hope Squad Connections: Encourage members to train family members and the community.
- Hope Squad Growth: Empower members to move forward with their skills and knowledge of mental health as they transition out of high school.
Hope Squad is located in 12 rural Utah communities, and the program has expanded to a total of 520 schools (30% in small, rural, and reservation areas) in Canada and the following states:
- North Carolina
Data taken from the 2017 Utah SHARP Survey revealed higher help-seeking behavior in schools with Hope Squads than schools without.
Two school-based surveys of Hope Squad show that its members not only increase their knowledge of suicide and intervention techniques (measured by a pre-test and a post-test) but members also retain this knowledge when they return to the program the following school year.
- 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.
Steps to starting a Hope Squad:
- Secure administrator approval
- Select Hope Squad advisors
- 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
- Attend annual Hope Squad advisor trainings
- Train Hope Squads with evidence-based curriculum
- Organize a Hope Week to spread mental health awareness
- Conduct a post-survey
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 may adapt the timeframe as needed.
Hope Squad students should not be expected to act as counselors. Instead, students are expected to listen to their peers and then take their concerns to Hope Squad advisors and other trusted adults.
Children and youth
Suicide and suicide prevention
March 27, 2017
Date updated or reviewed
March 22, 2019
Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.