Happy and healthy teens rely on Sources of StrengthSep 11, 2023 02:01PM ● By Jet Burnham
West Jordan High School teacher Tony Akin and some of last year’s Sources of Strength peer leaders. (Photo courtesy of Tony Akin)
How many friends does a high school student need? The more, the better, according to Brandt Haberman, the Wasatch Front School Counselor of the Year.
At West Jordan High School, Haberman helped build up the suicide prevention program Sources of Strength, which encourages students to build social connections.
According to a 2019 study cited by the Sources of Strength program, social connections are an indicator of suicide risk; the more social connections a student has, the fewer suicide ideations and attempts.
The Sources of Strength program at West Jordan High School is run by student peer leaders who represent a variety of backgrounds, cultures, extracurricular activities and personalities.
“The idea behind building the peer leader group is to find students from as many social circles as possible in the school,” Haberman said. “We are really trying to get someone from all walks of life, from all different friend groups, to get into the class and learn some of those skills and do the campaigns. So hopefully, between that struggling student’s friends and all of the activities and the support from adults in the school, we really have a wraparound support for them.”
In the Sources of Strength class, peer leaders learn about the eight areas of strength: family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, generosity, spirituality, physical health and mental health.
“Once peer leaders have been trained, they will be the tools needed to get this curriculum out to our student population,” Robyn Briggs said, who will be teaching the class this year.
Peer leaders plan lunchtime and after-school activities, focusing on one of the eight sources of strength each month. Students are introduced to (or reminded of) the program each September, which coincides with Suicide Prevention Month.
Haberman said it is effective when peer leaders educate their friends about ways they can strengthen themselves and others to face the challenges in their lives.
“The more that we can spread that message, the healthier our communities can be,” Haberman said.
Sources of Strength is an upstream prevention program, meaning instead of just addressing suicide prevention, it addresses behaviors that lead to a happier life overall, which, in turn, reduces risk of suicide.
“Sources of Strength focuses on the strengths that everyone has in their lives rather than the challenges that we face,” Briggs said. “This mentality has been proven to help students and their mental health. This strategy also encourages students to break the silence when they are struggling, increasing their possibility of seeking help during hard times.”
Utah law requires all secondary schools to have a suicide prevention program. An annual suicide prevention presentation is also given to all students to educate them on warning signs, risk factors and support resources. Additionally, wellness.jordandistrict.org provides suicide prevention and mental health resources for students and parents.
Haberman earned his Counselor of the Year award, in part, for the impact he has had on suicide prevention efforts in Jordan School District, including helping to develop the district’s Wellness Department.
“I just started talking to a lot of different people about what we were doing,” he said. “It wasn't really an official capacity, and we didn't have a committee, but we just started looking at all of the current practices and what was best practice. I just was involved in a lot of conversations.”
Haberman worked at Herriman High School during the year they experienced a rash of student suicides and was at West Jordan High School for four years. He now works at the district level, where he can focus exclusively on researching and implementing best practices for counselors to best support students and their families.
“I think school counselors are in such a unique position to be able to help students and families identify problems early on and make sure that they get the help that they need,” Haberman said. “I just want to be a support to that whole system and to families in the community. My goal of getting into school counseling is to help build positive, healthy communities.” λ