We are excited to be the first in Texas to implement Sources of Strength in schools, a best-practice youth suicide prevention program. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents in the state of Texas, and Texas ranks 51st in the nation for access to youth mental health services. This program harnesses the power of peer social networks to change unhealthy norms and culture, ultimately helping to prevent suicide, bullying, and substance abuse.
Sources of Strength is a strengths-based, upstream prevention program that aims to break codes of secrecy among students, promote help-seeking behavior, foster healthy peer-to-adult relationships, and build resiliency among youth.
Youth struggling with suicidal ideation many times keep the fact that they’re struggling to themselves. If they do open up to somebody, it’s often on the condition that the listener not tell anyone else. These codes of secrecy unfortunately keep struggling youth from getting the help they need and place a heavy burden on those trying to help their friends. Sources of Strength equips peer leaders to connect their struggling friends to trusted adults, who are better equipped to help struggling teens get the help they need.
Teenagers (like the rest of us) often do not want to admit that they’re struggling. When you combine this truth with the unfortunate stigma surrounding mental health you end up with lots of hurting youth staying in pain longer than they have to. Sources of Strength works to normalize the big emotions that we all feel as we go through life and encourages students to talk to someone when they’re feeling down. Sources reminds teens that getting help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.
Research shows that having at least one trusted adult in the life of an adolescent significantly lowers their risk for suicide. Part of the mission of Sources of Strength is to foster healthy peer-to-adult relationships, with the aim of connecting as many students as possible with an adult on campus that they can turn to when life gets hard.
Resiliency is the ability for us to bounce back after difficult life experiences. Unfortunately, the hard circumstances of life sometimes serve as springboards into destructive behaviors, like substance use, behavioral problems, or self-harm. Sources of Strength equips students with eight “sources of strength” to help them build resiliency and better handle the challenges that life sometimes brings.
Our first step is to create a Sources of Strength team on the participating campus made up of two groups. The first is a small group of caring, connected, and positive adults known as Adult Advisors. The second is a large group of diverse influential students from “every lunch table” on campus known as Peer Leaders. These two groups form our “community of strength” that spend a full day of training with some of our Sources of Strength trainers.
Once our community of strength has been assembled and trained, we continue to meet once-a-month for 45-to-60 minutes. These meetings provide us the opportunity to further relationships, practice resiliency building, and strategize ways to bring our message of hope, help, and strength to the rest of the campus.
Campaigns are the way we facilitate connection, community, belonging, resilience, and hope among everyone on campus. Our Sources of Strength team works together to help the rest of the student body identify their strengths, connect with trusted adults, practice thankfulness, and much, much more.
Sources of Strength has been evaluated through several large, randomized control trials and is one of the most rigorously evaluated and broadly disseminated prevention programs in the United States. Its research partners include The University of Rochester, The University of North Carolina, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The National Institute of Mental Health, and many, many more.
Among Peer Leaders, this research showed:
Among the general student body population, the study showed:
Sources of Strength has been listed on the National Best Practices Registry (BPR) by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) and The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) since 2009. Sources of Strength has also been listed on SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP) since 2011.
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