Hope Squads being piloted in colleges to help combat suicide
Hope4Utah’s idea that it takes a village to raise a child — and to save one — may expand to college and university campuses.
Hope4Utah’s Hope Squad programs, which trains students to recognize the warning signs of depressed or suicidal peers and report the signs to an adult, are being piloted at Dixie State University and at colleges in Indiana and Nebraska.
It’s the next step for the Provo-based organization, which has Hope Squads in half of Utah’s secondary schools and 20 percent of the state’s elementary schools.
“We never thought we’d be out of Provo,” said Greg Hudnall, the founder and executive director of Hope4Utah.
The organization, which now has Hope Squads in 300 Utah schools, expanded beyond Provo within the last five years. Hope Squads are also in 14 states outside of Utah, are in Canada, and there’s talks to bring Hope Squads to Australia, Northern Ireland and Brazil.
It all started after Hudnall, the former associate superintendent of the Provo City School District, had five of his students die by suicide while he was a principal in Provo. Then, in 1997, he was asked by police to identify the body of a 14-year-old student who had died by suicide in a park. Afterward, Hudnall threw up by his car and sobbed.
“I remember sitting in my car and being so angry because this was such an amazing young man,” Hudnall said.
Hudnall vowed to do everything he could to prevent suicides. Years later, his organization has trained about 50,000 adults on suicide prevention and awareness and Hope Squads have identified more than 2,500 children in need of help.
The group conducted a faith-based training at Brigham Young University the Sunday after a student died by suicide on campus last week. He said nearly every Sunday, the organization conducts training meetings at churches about the warning signs of suicide, risk factors and how to intervene.
The aim is that when a student approaches a peer about suicide ideation that the peer can tell an adult, and the student can then get professional help.
“The power is in the kids talking to each other and providing that support,” Hudnall said.
Hudnall has had his eye on expanding Hope Squads to colleges for the past three years. But college campuses pose unique challenges for the Hope Squad model. Colleges and universities can easily be 10 times larger than a high school and present a different dynamic. Some students are only on campus for an hour a day, or only have classes in a single building, presenting the question of how to assure every student can be reached.
“Do I think it’s possible? Yeah, I really do think it’s possible, it’s just trying to figure out that model,” Hudnall said.
It’s the first full year for the college pilot programs. The plan is to spend the next couple of years with researchers to decide on the curriculum and model for college Hope Squads.
Former Hope Squad members have gone on to college and asked if they can start one on their campus. Hudnall said he’d like to see Hope Squads have representation in every department at a university.
The college Hope Squad curriculum so far is similar to what is presented in precollegiate schools. The suicide prevention component is the same, but there is language and topics tailored to the age group, such as date rape, eating disorders and understanding grief.
In addition to a potential expansion to college campuses, there are also plans to get Hope Squads into a first responder organization, doTerra in Pleasant Grove and on an Air Force base.