Implementing The Model School District Policy On Suicide Prevention: Part V
by Kristina Kins & Brandon Combs
Editor’s Note: At SSWN we periodically invite colleagues and programs to write about their work and to share their open-access resources with the larger SSWN readership. Today we start a 5-part series with our colleagues at Erika’s Lighthouse (EL), where EL leaders Brandon Combs and Kristina Kins will share how Erika’s Lighthouse programs offer depression education to schools and seek to build school capacity to implement this work around the country. Full disclosure: I (Dr. Kelly) was led two independent evaluations of previous versions of EL programs that were published in peer-reviewed social work journals, which you can find here and here. These articles represent the views of EL, and we welcome them sharing their perspectives here. If you have an organization or program that you’d like to share with SSWN readers, let us know at our idea form here.
Teen Engagement: Creating Inclusive School Communities
In a 2019 Pew Research study, 96% of teens listed depression and anxiety as problems among their peers with 70% identifying them as serious problems.
While classroom programs, parent involvement, and professional development are essential to suicide prevention and mental health education, even more, can be done to build inclusive school cultures where discussing both mental health and mental illness are approached with dignity and students are comfortable seeking and receiving help.
A highly effective tool to accomplish this is through peer-led programming. Teens can build their own inclusive cultures around mental health discussions through Erika’s Lighthouse Teen Empowerment Clubs. These extra-curricular clubs are not support-groups and are not intended to be a clinical experience. Instead, these clubs offer teens opportunities to raise awareness, break the stigma, and spread empathy through our Awareness into Action Activities.
Focusing on good mental health, yet acknowledging how common it is for teens to experience mental health challenges, can build effective and empathic discussions and approaches within a school community. Teen Empowerment Clubs let teens take the lead and determine how these topics are looked upon while making changes to their school culture.
Implementing a Teen Empowerment Club
Implementing a club in a school depends on school policy, teen interest, and staff sponsor/advisor availability. They can be driven by school personnel or by teens themselves and the Erika’s Lighthouse team is available to support their efforts. A number of resources have been developed to assist sponsors/advisors, including the Start a Club Guidebook and a follow-up piece on how to Mobilize Your Club available on the Erika’s Lighthouse Resource Portal.
Teen Empowerment Clubs can use direct grant funds for activities, an online store for branded materials sold at cost, t-shirts for members, and direct support from Erika’s Lighthouse staff.
Awareness into Action Activities
To take the next steps after depression awareness and education, Erika’s Lighthouse has created Awareness Into Action Activities for students to utilize in their school. Even in remote environments, digital activities can be used to promote good mental health, build supportive communities, and encourage discussion to help break the stigma. All of these activities are accessible through the Resource Portal. By taking action, students can take charge of the discussion of mental health in their school communities and lead the way to establish an inclusive and supportive school culture.
Follow the Footprints
An example of an Awareness into Action Activity is called “Follow the Footprints”. Students place printed and cut-out footprints around the school that lead directly to a Social Worker or Counselor’s office – promoting help-seeking behavior and reminding teens that support exists. The footprints have facts about mental health and depression to educate youth. Some schools have implemented this activity on St. Patrick's Day with a “pot of gold” in the social worker’s office for teens to find. This activity was created by teens in an Illinois-based club and is a great example of how teen-led initiatives can bolster existing school policies.
Utilizing Awareness Into Action Activities is also available for any student groups to use as Affiliate Teen Clubs – where any existing good mental health club, youth leadership, or other groups can promote meaningful dialogue and inclusive cultures in school communities.
Depression education is an upstream, suitable alternative for many schools implementing programs to educate, support, and empower all students, including those struggling with mental health conditions and suicidal ideation.
The curriculum from Erika’s Lighthouse should be seriously considered for meeting a district’s needs for mental health education and suicide prevention. All programming and support through Erika’s Lighthouse are available at no cost.
Engage with Erika’s Lighthouse today by:
- Creating an always-free Resource Portal account
- Contacting us at [email protected]
- Exploring our programs and resources
Access all the free resources provided by Erika’s Lighthouse at ErikasLighthouse.org.