Rivalry football game chance for anti-teen suicide groups to work together

For the first time, Middletown and Lakota East high schools’ student groups working to prevent teen suicide will join forces at an upcoming football game to broaden their public message of hope.

Theschools’ football teams will meet on Sept. 9 at Middletown’s Barnitz Stadium.

And officials from both Middletown and Lakota school districts are hoping to reach many fans with both a suicide prevention message and practical information for teens and school families who are dealing with mental health challenges.

Both high schools have student activists in Hope Squads designed to give classmates peer support and guides to professional mental health services they may need.

“Admitting you need mental health help is hard, so the more we talk about it, the more we advocate for it, and the more we work to end the stigma surrounding it will only benefit our community,” said Middletown Schools spokeswoman Elizabeth Beadle.

“By utilizing a Friday night football game, the Hope Squad can get lots of literature in the hands of people that will hopefully help someone in need,” said Beadle.

The game kicks off at 7 p.m. and Middletown High School Hope Squad members will hand out mental health awareness items to people as they enter the gates at 6:30 p.m. Officials will recognize both schools’ Hope Squads on the field during halftime.

The climbing trend of teens suffering from mental health challenges was worsening even before the onset the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 and the isolation and stress brought on by the historic virus has seen more youth suffering from anxiety and depression.

According to a recent National Institute of Mental Health study an estimated 4.1 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 17.0% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17.

The study also reported the prevalence of major depressive episode was higher among adolescent females (25.2%) compared to males (9.2%).

There is both strength and hope in numbers, said Justin Dennis, AP psychology teacher and Hope Squad advisor at Lakota East.

“The idea that mental health is a personal struggle we are burdened to carry alone is wrong. By joining together with Middletown or in any way we can, we show that no one struggles alone and that the community has a role to play in helping our students, families and friends through tough times,” said Dennis.

“I’m proud of what our students are doing in our schools to lead this change and I feel hopeful that the future of mental health in the community has a much bigger priority. This night will be about showing unity, advocacy and that mental health is a joint effort across all communities.”

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