Prairie students learn how to ACT when peers need help

posted Mar 29, 2018, 4:15 PM by Joe Vajgrt

Prairie students learn how to ACT when peers need help

March 29, 2018

Each year, a team of Prairie High School students are selected and trained as peer mentors to help their fellow students directly address a very difficult topic: teen suicide.

Nationally, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 15-19, and an average of two Washingtonians under the age of 25 die by suicide each week. Despite the prevalence of the problem, the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health can be so powerful that students and families struggling with a mental health crisis can feel like there’s nowhere to turn for help.

Knowing that the topic can bring up uncomfortable feelings and concerns, Battle Ground Public Schools has adopted a youth suicide prevention program for high schoolers referred to as Signs of Suicide, or simply, Signs. The Signs program is a youth suicide prevention program that has demonstrated an improvement in students’ knowledge and adaptive attitudes about suicide risk and depression, as well as resulted in a reduction in actual suicide attempts. The program was implemented in support of Battle Ground Public Schools' focus on social-emotional learning.

A key message of the Signs program is that friends are an important part of a person’s support network, and quite often, teens who are experiencing a crisis will turn to a friend for help before they’ll go to an adult. The Signs program teaches students how to take appropriate action if they encounter a situation that requires help from a trusted adult. 

Each year at Prairie High School, a team of junior and senior students is identified and trained to present the Signs educational curriculum to their 10th and 11th grade peers. The student-led presentation is designed to raise awareness about suicide and depression and provide information about additional resources that students can turn to when they’re feeling overwhelmed.

Christian Cha is a senior at Prairie High School and one of the Signs program’s peer mentors. Cha says that like many students, he has always been inclined to want to help his peers, but that he didn’t know how. His experience with the Signs program has provided focus and direction so that he now feels empowered to help. 

“Being a part of Signs has taught me to really understand that everyone has a different perspective and reacts to situations through their own lens of experience” Cha said. “You may not understand or relate to it yourself, but you should never discount what someone else may be going through. Talking about suicide and depression can be uncomfortable, but it needs to be taken seriously. It’s no joke.” 

With Signs, students learn how to acknowledge, care, and tell, or “ACT” to help a friend in crisis. Students discuss how to acknowledge the concern, let the person know you care, and tell a trusted adult. Trusted adults include teachers, coaches, or counselors at their school, as well as family members and members of the faith community. 

Prairie High School counselor Bonnie Roggenkamp has noticed a difference as a result of the peer training. “There’s been a noticeable increase in the number of students coming in and reporting issues,” Roggenkamp said. “From the training they receive from Signs, students learn that they can help, that they should help, and how they can help.” 

“Denial is easy, and talking about youth suicide and depression is hard,” Roggenkamp said. “The Signs program gives our students the knowledge and tools they need to cope and get additional help when they need it.” 

Parents are also encouraged to share their concerns with school staff. “If parents have concerns about their students, we encourage them to call the counseling office to let us know,”  said Intervention Specialist Sharice Lee. “Sometimes parents don’t think to call the school, but there’s a lot that we can do to provide extra care and support. Our students’ safety and emotional health is extremely important to us, and knowing when a student may be experiencing a crisis enables us to provide that extra level of care.”