- Grant Us Hope was founded in 2016 by Diane Egbers, who lost her son to suicide in 2015. Grant Egbers was 15 at the time of her death.
- There are over 200 schools with Hope Squads across the Tristate and Hope Squads are in schools in 30 states.
- Students told The Enquirer there is a disconnect between children and adults when it comes to mental health. Most students said they wish parents were better listeners.
When it comes to mental health issues, neighborhood kids are begging the adults in their lives, “Listen to us.”
Mental health issues among young people have never been greater. A 2021 survey of local students in grades 7-12 found that more than half said they had high levels of stress, and one in 10 said they had considered suicide.
Local experts, children address the growing mental health concerns of young people: What are we doing to help our children?
1 in 3 children in the region may have mental health problems. Is your child one of them? How to tell them and how to talk to them.
When children feel they cannot get help from adults, they turn to their peers. The peers most trusted to help their classmates with a mental health crisis are nominated to join Hope Squads in schools with the program. Grant Us Hope, a local nonprofit organization, has implemented the peer-to-peer suicide prevention program in more than 240 schools in Ohio. The Hope Squads are found in 30 states across the country, and Ohio has the most teams of any state outside of Utah.
Hundreds of Ohio Hope Squad student leaders and advisors recently gathered at the Lakota West Freshman Campus in West Chester for their first regional gathering since 2019. The Enquirer asked several students at the conference what they would like let adults know about mental health and youth. Here is what they said:
- Braeden Fedders, 18, is a senior at Mason High School. He said some adults attribute the youth mental health crisis to a generational trend and have a kind of “helpless attitude” about the problem. “It can be, like, a little humiliating,” he said.
- Ryan Faessler, 15, is a sophomore at Loveland High School. He said the world had changed since most parents were in school. “There are just different challenges for kids these days,” he said. “And I think that might be hard for some people to understand.”
- Keeghan Wills, 17, is a senior at Middletown High School. She said that when children tell their parents they are depressed, parents often respond by saying they have “nothing to be depressed about”. That’s wrong, she said. “I feel like parents absolutely have to be there for their kids and watch out for those signs.”
- Clark Velasco, 17, is a senior at Middletown High School and said adults need to listen to children more and be more empathetic. “Put yourself in their shoes and try to really understand how they feel,” he said.
Students involved with Hope Squads at Milford High School and Lakota East High School expressed similar concerns to The Enquirer earlier this school year, describing a disconnect between children and adults when talking about mental health.
Hope Squad students at the conference also identified key issues they believe contribute to poor mental health in children:
- Social isolation.
- Academic pressure, social pressure and/or pressure to be “perfect”.
- Family problems.
- Social media and technology.
Social media is a common scapegoat for youth mental health issues. But that’s not the only culprit, Fedders said.
“I get a little peeved when adults just like to say mental health issues are caused by social media,” he said. “But I don’t think that’s necessarily true.”
The best thing adults trying to help kids can do, Fedders said, is bring kids into the conversation about solutions.
“I feel like there will never be enough resources in the school building for special needs kids,” Wills said.
What is Grant Us Hope?
Grant Us Hope is a Sharonville-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that oversees the Hope Squads in Ohio and Indiana. It was founded by Diane Egbers after her son, Grant Egbers, died by suicide in 2015. He was 15 and a student at St. Xavier’s High School.
When she lost her son, Egbers said, she began looking for a way to help other struggling children so that no other parent would have to suffer the same fate.
“We just didn’t see that he was losing hope,” she told The Enquirer.
Grant Us Hope was founded in 2016 with the goal of changing the culture and stigma around mental health, doing “OK to not be OK,” Egbers said. She thinks that if Grant had gotten help a year or two before he killed himself, things might have been different.
Seeing more than 700 student members of the Hope Squad come together last week gave him an “awesome feeling,” Egbers said. She loves seeing how proud the kids are to be leaders and is confident that they will take the skills learned through Hope Squad with them when they grow up and settle in other communities.
“What touches me the most is how much the children of Hope Squad embody the spirit of our son,” she said. “These kids are coming out into the world and that’s the generation that’s going to change the stigma.”
Children helping each other: is that too much pressure for young adults?
Hope Squad students always report red flags to an adult at school, said Scott Inskeep, CEO of Grant Us Hope. Students are trained to notice the signs of suicide and other mental health issues and how to contact peers with these warning signs.
Fedders said he mostly notices red flags on social media. Sometimes troubled kids post alarming messages online, and that’s what might prompt a Hope Squad member to reach out. If the interaction begins via social media, Fedders said, he tries to move the conversation to in-person or at least FaceTime.
“Because it’s the best way to communicate,” Fedders said. “There can be a lot of obstacles when you’re going through text, and a lot of things that you miss, like tone of voice.
“The most important thing is to just try to create a safe space for that person and make them feel like they can trust you.”
But sometimes the effort of creating a safe space can be a burden on members of Hope Squad. Wills said she tried to help a fellow student who was “going through a tough time” last year.
After the interaction, she thought of all the things she could or should have done or said differently to help.
“I just walked away feeling like I hadn’t done enough,” Wills said. “And that really stuck with me for a while.”
The responsibility is sometimes overwhelming, Wills said. But ultimately, she recognizes that any help adds positivity to someone else’s life.
The kids talk to each other about mental health regardless, Inskeep said. And students are the best resources adults have for understanding which children might be struggling. Hope Squad adds structure to the conversations that are already happening between young people and provides additional resources for students who want to help their friends.
“It’s just another way to help these kids be the conduit, if you will, to an adult who can get them the help they need,” Inskeep said.
“It’s about saving children’s lives.”
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