Citizen Advocates Prevention Specialists, from left to right: Teri Marlowe, Mary White, Lisa Lawrence-Boyer, Fallon Nichols, Emily Trudell and Tracy Gravell. Not pictured: Brenda Collette and Marcy Smith.
Program need vital following more than two years of pandemic life
After two years of online instruction, a vital mental health screening program returned to Franklin County classrooms this school year. Administered by Citizen Advocates’ in-school Prevention Specialists—alongside school counselors, teachers and staff—the Signs of Suicide (SOS) Program works to destigmatize depression and suicidal thoughts and normalize the discussion of mental health among young people and their parents.
“The goal of the prevention program is to get kids help,” said Lisa Lawrence-Boyer, Citizen Advocates’ in-school Prevention Supervisor and the Co-facilitator for the Franklin County Prevention Task Force. “Be that in-school counseling, outside mental health therapy, or a referral to Citizen Advocates’ Crisis & Recovery Center in Malone.”
For the SOS program, students in grades 6-12 are shown three short videos that teach them how to recognize signs of sadness and depression in themselves and their peers. The vignettes feature teens and pre-teens discussing what it was like for themselves or a friend to go through depression and introduce the acronym ACT for how to react when friends reach out for help:
- Acknowledge signs of suicide in a friend.
- Show your friend that you Care.
- Tell a trusted adult.
Following the program, students were asked to confidentially indicate if they were interested in speaking to a counselor about themselves or a friend. The prevention specialists, school psychologists and school counselors then ensured that each student who wished to talk was evaluated by the end of the screening day, with the necessary students connected to mental health counseling services and their parents contacted to ensure safety.
Youth mental health and addiction education are always imperative, but even more so after two years of pandemic life. A 2021 CDC survey of almost 8,000 high school students nationwide found that more than 40 percent of teenagers felt persistently sad or hopeless during the previous year, and in December 2021 the U.S. Surgeon General warned of the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis.
“The pandemic was a trying time for everyone,” Ms. Lawrence-Boyer said. “When there are trying times, it impacts our mental health and social well-being. Now it’s time to get kids back into a routine and address those needs.”
Citizen Advocates has operated the in-school prevention program since 1989. The program promotes awareness, resources and education related to youth mental health and addiction at schools throughout Franklin County. Prevention specialists use a mix of evidenced-based programs and activities that foster positive youth development.
“Our prevention specialists work side-by-side with teachers, counselors, administrators and Citizen Advocates’ own in-school clinicians to foster trust with students and battle the stigma around mental health and suicide prevention,” said Jennifer Rowledge, Citizen Advocates’ Director of Community Supports. “The essential work of our prevention team helps identify the mental health needs of Franklin County kids and their families and works to address those needs.”
According to Ms. Lawrence-Boyer, the SOS Program can produce strong emotions in students, staff and parents, but through the work of Citizen Advocates’ prevention specialists and school staff, many Franklin County youth were connected to services that will help them thrive.