TORRINGTON – A group of 28 Torrington High School students is working to erase the stigmas surrounding mental health and suicide prevention.
Sources of Strength, a nationwide youth suicide prevention project, was established roughly a year ago. The organization meets as a class every day with two adult advisors during first period to create and establish different campaigns to help students utilize peer networks and increase help-seeking behaviors aimed at suicide prevention.
The group recently finished their latest campaign, “What helps us,” during which each peer leader visited a homeroom with a worksheet encouraging students to identify coping mechanisms that help them when they are angry, depressed or anxious. One peer leader, senior Hailey Boslau, said bringing the project to her classmates was “nerve wracking” at first, but they are receptive to conversations about mental health.
“They took it pretty seriously,” she said. “Talking about mental health helped me realize what I do, without even realizing it, that helps me cope with anger, depression and anxiety, and I can help people choose things to help themselves.”
The organization’s logo is a color wheel depicting some sources of strength: mental health, family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, generosity, spirituality and physical health.
Sources of Strength is also working on building a social media presence, along with sharing their message on the morning announcements and through a Polaroid wall that will feature photos of students and teachers holding a sign identifying their greatest strength. They’ll distribute Valentine’s Day treats to each student this week and are working to partner with local businesses to spread their messaging and potentially act as sponsors.
Senior peer leader Caitlyn Flannagan said being in the Sources of Strength class and program has helped her cope with depression and other struggles with mental health.
“And I feel like I can help others as well,” she said.
On Wednesdays, some peer leaders go to Valley Christian School, a Torrington private school that serves kids in prekindergarten through fifth grade, where they will teach social-emotional learning through lesson plans and activities.
According to Michele Ogburn, THS counselor and Sources of Strength adult advisor, students were handpicked for the class’ first year to represent both upperclassmen and underclassmen from the school’s various social groups, so everyone is represented.
Ogburn, a licensed therapist, said introducing these lessons early helps young people grow their strengths and learn to be resilient.
“A lot of times we get kids who are so focused on ‘I’m depressed, I can’t do this,’ but the fact is, you’re still here, you’re doing something, something is strong in you,” Ogburn said. “We focus on how we tap into that and focus on that part of it, versus the I’m depressed part of it. Starting at a young age is super important in being able to identify feelings.”
Sources of Strength recently announced an elementary school curriculum, something Goshen County Prevention Specialist Lynette Saucedo would be beneficial for Goshen County schools to eventually adopt.
The county’s prevention coalition and the school’s activity fund pay for Sources of Strength, which Saucedo said is costly for the first two years of implementation, but worth every penny. Statewide, certified prevention specialists are required to spend the majority of their funding on evidence-based strategies that are proven effective by research.
“This one encompasses all of the domains that our prevention work falls under – underage drinking tobacco use drug use, mental health support and suicide prevention – so while it is a costly training and a costly model, it does address all of those needs,” Saucedo said.
The goal of the program moving forward will be to connect with the community and normalize having conversations about mental health both inside and outside of school buildings.
“When you capitalize on strengths, you’re increasing your community’s protective factors and hoping to decrease the risk factors so that we can continue to support, not just peer to peer,” Saucedo said. “A student might recognize that a grandparent is struggling and be able to say, they’re going to need some support, and that’s empowering whether you’re talking about a 15-year-old or 65-year-old.”
Jacob Martin, THS teacher and Sources of Strength advisor, said early exposure to healthy coping skills is important, because everyone needs them eventually.
“Life happens to all of us, it’s not a matter of if or maybe, it will,” Martin said. “If we can get a foundation built where students can think about positive things and coping in a positive manner, the better that it’s going to be for them.”
If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide, call the Wyoming Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). Wyoming Lifeline Operators currently answer calls from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, according to the WDH. Residents who call the Wyoming Lifeline outside of business hours will be directed to the national hotline.