Las Vegas Sun

June 24, 2021

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Henderson, school district launch teen suicide prevention program

Henderson suicide prevention

Miranda Willson

Henderson Mayor Debra March speaks Monday during an announcement for Henderson Hope Squad, a new suicide prevention program at middle and high schools in Henderson.

Forty-four students in the Clark County School District took their own lives between 2016 and 2018. Former Bob Miller Middle School student Caera Hawkes was one of them.

Now, students at Bob Miller, six other Henderson middle schools and five Henderson high schools will have the opportunity to participate in a peer-driven program aimed at preventing youth suicides.

“These are not just statistics. These are intelligent, caring young people — sons and daughters who are deeply loved,” Henderson Mayor Debra March said Monday at an event announcing the program.

Called Henderson Hope Squad, the program is part of a national suicide prevention initiative and will be carried out locally by the city of Henderson and the school district at all public middle and high schools in the city. The program’s intent is to get students involved in the fight against youth suicides, as friends or peers are often the first people to whom teenagers turn when they have suicidal thoughts, Henderson City Manager Richard Derrick said.

Starting next semester, middle and high school students at participating schools will nominate peers to serve on the Hope Squad. Faculty at each school will then vet the nominees and determine whether they will be appropriate for the Hope Squad, assistant superintendent Tammy Malich said.

Selected students will receive 80 hours of training to learn how to identify signs of depression and when to tell an adult, she said. The idea is to provide a peer-oriented, initial line of defense against suicide by connecting students to one another.

“This takes a community component,” Malich said.

The program comes in response to an increase in suicides among young people in Clark County. The county saw suicide rates among children 17 and under increase by 90% between 2017 and 2018 alone, March said.

Since the launch of the anonymous tip reporting system SafeVoice in 2018, the school district has received about 200 reports of depression, 270 reports of self-harm and around 375 suicide-related tips, Superintendent Jesus Jara said.

Creating a sense of connection and belonging is key to suicide prevention, according to Richard Egan, training and outreach facilitator for the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention. When people feel connected to their family, their school or another community, they are unlikely to attempt suicide.

While there has been curriculum in Nevada schools to prevent suicide, none of those programs extend throughout the school year, Egan continued. This is also the first program in the state where students, not just teachers, will play a crucial role.

“Hope Squad fills that gap, that connectiveness gap with our youth, because that’s what they need,” Egan said.

In addition to young people, social workers and counselors will be a crucial part of the Hope Squad program, Malich said. Student members of the Hope Squad will not provide counseling or professional diagnoses to their peers, but they might connect them to adults and staff who can help them in those ways, she said.

Caera Hawkes’ mother Melissa described the program as “long overdue.”

“It’s not just another lesson in the auditorium,” Hawkes said. “Kids talk to each other, they see things, and to get them all involved I think will make a huge difference.”

Having gone through the experience of losing a 14-year-old child to suicide, Hawkes said that acknowledgement of the problem is an important first step for preventing similar tragedies.

“It’s something no parents wants to face,” she said. “It’s easier to blow it off as just teenage drama, but it’s out there, it’s a serious issue, and if you address it seriously, then it can be prevented.”