TYLER, Texas —
Recent studies have shown that Smith County has the highest suicide rate of the state's 25 most populous counties.
To combat the tragic trend, Sources of Strength, a suicide prevention program, is being implemented at Robert E. Lee High School.
“It's been shown to make kids, far more likely when they actually need help, to get that help that they need,” Brandon Davidson, Director of Operations and Programs at Next Step Community Solutions, said.
Sources of Strength is designed to harness the power of peer social networks to change unhealthy norms and culture, ultimately preventing suicide, bullying and substance abuse. The program moves beyond a singular focus on risk factors by utilizing an upstream approach for youth suicide prevention. This upstream model strengthens multiple sources of support (protective factors) around young individuals so that when times get hard, they have strengths to rely on.
"What we really know is that kids talk to other kids,” Davidson said. “We were really looking for a program that supported those students, but it wasn't really heavy in turning them into junior psychologist."
Five to eight percent of the students at Robert E. Lee will be chosen by teachers and staff as peer leaders. If a student is dealing with a mental health issue or feeling suicidal, they can turn to one of their peer leaders. The leader will direct the student to the proper "Source of Strength."
“Maybe they come to our counselor,” Davidson said. “Maybe they get referred to the Andrew's Center.”
Students and staff leaders will be trained by Davidson and Daniel Griffith with Next Step.
"Once the kid picks up their adult leaders, we'll train the adults and then we'll train the youth leaders,” Griffith said.
Through this program, studies have shown students are four-and-a-half times more likely to get the help they need when they're supported by their peers.
"All the students that are going to be the peer leaders, it was not chosen at random,” Davidson said. “You were selected by the campus. This is a big deal. It's a chance to use your voice on campus to change the culture of the school you're at."
Next Step says the are planning to bring the program to a second East Texas school, which will be decided this summer.