In the center of the Soldotna Prep School’s library, two students battled it out in a game of rock-paper-scissors while their peers chanted their names in a roar of excited anticipation.
The final match ended quickly, paper over rock and the attention and excitement jumped to Dan Adams of Sources of Strength, a best practice youth suicide prevention program. But the tone of the room didn’t shift, the upbeat energy and camaraderie flowed through the day’s events, keeping a positive attitude in the face of what can often be a solitary and depressive struggle with suicidal thoughts.
“(Sources of Strength) is an evidence-based program model,” Adams said. “A wellness program that builds protective factors to prevent issues, build strength instead of reacting to crisis moments.”
Adams described the program as “upstream prevention,” teaching kids to get out of the river before it takes them toward the crisis moments in life.
On Tuesday morning, students from Soldotna Prep, Kenai Alternative and Soldotna High schools were learning how to get out of the river. They were joined by several Kenai Peninsula Borough School District faculty members who have been trained by Sources of Strength.
The day-long meeting was a training session for the students, who had been chosen as peer leaders, to prepare them for their role in Friday’s culminating Sources of Strength conference held at the Challenger Learning Center. As peer leaders, they will be on hand to guide other students through the different sources of strength, which include family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, generosity, spirituality, medical access and mental health.
“The more strengths we have, the more resilient we will be,” Adams told the students.
The library served as a safe space on Tuesday, allowing the students and faculty to open up about the sources of strength they rely on in their everyday life whether it’s a close group of friends, a beloved grandparent, getting outside or talking to a counselor.
“I was in counseling at the Serenity House in Soldotna,” Bailey Burke, a junior at Soldotna High School, said. “At first I wasn’t excited about it, but it helped me learn to experience a happier side of life.”
Sharing this happiness is part of the reason Burke wanted to be involved as a peer leader and to help promote strength throughout the Kenai Peninsula community.
“I have experience with suicide and suicidal thoughts, but now that I’m past that area in my life I want to help others,” Burke said. “I want to show other people that you can turn something, like suicididal thoughts or drug abuse, into something better. You can make it better.”
The Sources of Strength initiative began in district schools last year, in order to combat the staggering suicide numbers in Alaska. The suicide rate is currently at a 20-year high, with a rate of 27.1 suicides per 100,000 residents, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. The U.S. national rate is 13.3 per 100,000.
The district’s involvement with Sources of Strength is funded through a donation from the GCI Suicide Prevention Fund, which hopes to help Alaskans find effective ways to discuss suicide in their community.
And starting a conversation is one of the big goals for Sources of Strength.
“Going forward, you can promote the different strengths across the community,” Adams said to the group. “We want to make sure less people get to the place of crisis. … We want to make sure people can connect to help when they’re struggling.”
Anyone suffering from thoughts of suicide should call Alaska’s Careline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
Reach Kat Sorensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.