TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Keeping students safe by building their strengths. That's the idea behind "Sources of Strength," a suicide prevention program working to provide mental health resources for students.
In the Twin Falls School District, the program is fairly new--only in its second year--but members are already working hard.
"We just started this program last year, so we only really had half or three quarters of the year," said Christi Benson, the advisor for the Twin Falls High School Sources of Strength.
The program takes a unique approach to suicide prevention. It starts with fostering strong relationships between students and trusted adults at school. From there, it's the kids who spread the message of inclusion and safety to their peers.
At Twin Falls High School, their first campaign centers around the mentoring aspect of the eight strengths. They had each student write down on a feather-shaped piece of paper and adult they trust and why--then, they created a huge pair of wings from the feathers.
View this post on Instagram
Each feather on this huge set of wings represents a trusted adult students can go to if they’re struggling with their #mentalhealth. It’s part of a new mental health campaign put on by @tfhs_sourcesofstrength! Full story👉ksawtv.com #mentalhealthmatters#twinfallsidaho#sourcesofstrength
"Obviously having a mentor, someone to look up to as a role model, is very important for young people so they can build skills they'll need in the future," Benson explained.
A trusted adult is someone students can seek help from--with no judgement.
"You can go to them about anything. The trusted adult will give you advice, honest advice, and it will help you along the way," explained Ayden Coatz, a Sources of Strength Peer Leader. "Sometimes when you bottle things in, it can really affect the way you go about your day. If you can release it to someone, it helps your mental health a lot."
The idea is to give students a way to express those emotions in a safe, trusting environment.
"I think it's a great way for students to get help, and for them to know they're not alone in their struggles and they can get help if they need it," said Abbie Mathes, another Peer Leader. "For kids who maybe don't have a trusted adult, so they can see who other people trust, and maybe they can find a trusted adult in them too."
The target demographic is a vulnerable age group. A study from the Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio found suicide rates for children have been on the rise since 2007. In fact, rates are increasing at a double-digit rate for young girls, ages 10 to 14.
Peer leaders like Bailee Habel are students who are nominated by teachers to be part of the program. The teens open up about the heavy issues they are facing. Like depression, family and peer pressure, and even suicide.
"Even before, I was all about being there for my friends. I was always the person that they reached out to," Habel said. "We just need to look out for our friends. There is a lot of them that were struggling with isolation."
Idaho has still has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. Several schools across the state have adopted Sources of Strength to give mental health resources and education to some of our youngest who may be struggling.
A TikTok video shows friends taking photos next in front of the huge pair of wings at Twin Falls High School. (TikTok: @IdahoNews6)
It's especially important after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools this spring.
"We had a lot of students struggle with being isolated and at home--not being able to hang out with friends like they normally would or be at school," Benson said. "That's a big part of a student's life when they're young."
A huge part of the program is creating a safe culture at school and ending the stigma surrounding mental illness, but Benson says that will take time.
"I think stepping back and realizing it's going to take time for this culture change," Benson said. "It will get there if we're willing to stick with it."
If you or someone you know is struggling, please don't hesitate to reach out for help. Here's a list of resources:
Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline:
Phone: (208) 398-4357
Veteran's Crisis Line:
Phone: 1 (800) 273-8255 (PRESS 1), or you can text: 838255 to get help from professionals, 24/7.
St. Luke's Psychiatric Wellness Clinic:
211 Idaho Careline:
Phone: Dial 211 or 1-800-926-2588
Code 4 Northwest:
Phone: (888) 659-7510
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare:
Phone lists: https://healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/ContactUs.aspx