Beat the Stigma: How schools approach mental health

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — Two Miami Valley school districts are addressing mental health using a new approach.

At Middletown High School soon to be seniors, Clark and Marianna are best friends and they try to be a friend to everyone at their school.

“It’s really great that we both check on each other, rather than just being strangers,” said senior Clark Jorel Velasco.

It’s actually Clark and Marianna’s duty as ‘Hope Squad’ peer supporters. But their classmates thought they were the right fit for this important role.

“My peers can trust me with their personal feelings and thoughts,” said senior Marianna Willson.

RELATED: Beat The Stigma - Part 2

The two join thousands of ‘Hope Squad’ peer supporters across the country. “Hope Squad’ is a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program that began in Utah.

It’s now in more than 200 Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky schools, thanks to Diane Egbers who is the founder of Grant Us Hope.

“Kids are nominated, they participate and reach out to kids that are suffering and try to get them to an adult to get help,” Egbers said.

She said she wishes her son, Grant, had a program like this when he was in high school. “After Grant had his fourth concussion, he really was suffering with debilitating migraines,” Egbers said.

The son she always knew, to be fun, outgoing, and happy, began to self-isolate and quickly fell into a depression.

“We had very limited time to help Grant,” Egbers said.

In February of 2015 Grant took his own life and Diane lost her son.

“And in 2016, I was really looking for ways to redeem that suffering,” she said.

So, Egbers launches ‘Grant Us Hope’ an educational organization that aims to reduce youth suicide and promote mental health awareness.

Paul Otten, Superintendent for Beavercreek City Schools said, “We very quickly saw this as a great opportunity for our kids.”

RELATED: Beat the Stigma - Part 3

Beavercreek City Schools is one of the many districts in the Miami Valley that has partnered with “Grant Us Hope’ just like Middletown City Schools.

“It’s more like being in the same boat and the sense of trust is higher whenever you’re with your peers,” Clark said.

There also isn’t that uncomfortable age gap, when confiding ion school staff.

“You’re growing up with these people, you’ve been with these people since preschool, kindergarten, so I think it’s easier to talk to someone you know, other than talking to a teacher,” Marianna said.

“What Hope Squad and Grant Us Hope have done for us it has really allowed us to kind of peel back the onion a little bit and to find supports that weren’t there before,” Otten said.

“We were developed and nurtured in a culture where mental health and suicide was not okay. And so, we’re working against those stigmas, against our history and culture and try to cultivate a new generation of students that it is okay to not be okay,” Egbers said.

And, to see her program positively help thousands of students helps her remember her son, Grant, in a positive light.

“He was the kids that would protect kids from bullies and so when I see our Hope Squad kids in action. It reminds me of the spirit of our son,” Egbers said.

For more information about Grant Us Hope, please visit their website.

Comments on this article