2022 Riverton Hope Walk highlights suicide preventionFeb 23, 2022 06:15PM ● By Dylan Wilcox
Riverton High School students and community members participated in the annual Hope Walk on Saturday, Feb. 5. (Brook Bowen, Riverton City)
By Dylan Wilcox | [email protected]
Students, teachers and community members of Riverton High School participated in the Hope Walk on Saturday, Feb. 5, calling attention to the importance of suicide prevention, especially among youth.
The event was planned in part by the Hope Squad, a team of students and faculty who have been trained in recognizing signs of suicide in individuals and how to respond. Natalie Bartholomew, the Hope Squad Adviser, says that the Hope Walk, which is part of Hope Week, was inspired after a cluster of suicides occurred a few years after Riverton was established in 1999.
“This is something that a lot of us have noticed that there is this alarming trend, an increase in anxiety and depression, just mental health generally. If you notice people are struggling, reach a hand out and let them tell you their story, then you’ve created a connection with that person,” Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs said.
According to Bartholomew, previous Riverton City Councilor Jerry Payne discussed various programs that could be implemented to emphasize suicide prevention. The Hope4Utah program was integrated with the high school’s curriculum.
“We have a group of 50 kids who are trained on mental health topics and QPR which is question, persuade and refer which is a suicide prevention strategy in looking for warning signs and how to get those people help,” Bartholomew said. “We train them, and we make students aware of who they can get help from and who they can talk to.”
According to Hope4Utah.com, suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 10-19. About 4,600 teens are lost to suicide annually. “We see it a lot, as a counselor at the high school, mental health is the number one thing we see kids struggling with right now,” Bartholomew said.
“Hope Squads are the eyes and ears of your school. They are comprised of students who are trained to watch for at-risk students–provide friendship, identify warning signs, and seek help from adults. HOPE4UTAH works with school advisors to train students who have been identified by their classmates as trustworthy peers to serve as Hope Squad members. Through evidence-based training modules, Hope Squad members are empowered to seek help and save a life,” the website says. The training is done in tandem with parents so both teens and parents are aware of suicide warning signs.
The Hope Squad is a nonconfrontational means of having students who struggle with suicide ideation reach out to a peer rather than an adult with whom they might not feel comfortable discussing such topics. Dylan Elliott, a senior at Riverton High School, is the Hope Squad president. He was introduced to the Hope Squad in middle school, joined the team in high school and has since been involved in planning events for the cause in the community.
“I feel like everyone has been affected or can relate someway to suicide prevention,” Elliott said. “So, I thought this program was so cool because it not only focuses on the deep stuff, but also the happy stuff, the idea of hope. And we want to give hope to my peers.” Last year’s Hope Walk was different because of COVID, but this year is “very empowering,” Elliott said.
Elliott shared that the Hope Squad’s QPR training helped him to recognize suicide warning signs in a friend. He called 911 to prevent the attempt.
“I was very grateful for the training I got from Hope Squad to be able to recognize the signs,” he said. “I think there is a level, while I’m participating in meetings and events, that this kind of training can really make a change.”
The United Health Foundation maintains suicide statistics on AmericasHealthRankings.org which lists Utah as the state with the fifth highest suicide rates. According to their data, 21 people in every 100,000 have committed suicide in the last year. The highest demographic being Caucasian males aged 35-41.
Natalie Hall, the newly elected mayor of Bluffdale, said that the Hope Walk was an impactful experience for her and her kids. Even though the city lines are different, Hall says Bluffdale and Riverton are the same community.
“I think it’s really important for people to realize that our kids go to Riverton,” Hall said. “We really want to support Hope Week year-round. We want to make sure our students know they are loved and that they can share their stories. Mayor Staggs has been very gracious in including Bluffdale in events this week.”
Hall said these events will continue to play an important role in addressing the mental health needs of the community.
Hope Squad Public Relations representative Jacqueline Willard, a senior at Riverton High School, has been using social media to spread the word about Hope Squad and Hope Week. “I’ve been able to communicate with students and staff through multiple ways, in assemblies and in classes, by showing videos to talk about Hope Week and how we can help students,” she said. “It’s important for them to reach out to us and we can work with counselors [to address their needs],” Willard added.