NAMI SUPORTS HOPE SQUAD
SHARONVILLE – Jennifer Wright-Berryman looked over a room packed with Southwest Ohio teenagers sharing stories about the tough business of personifying hope in high school.
“Have people made fun of you for being on Hope Squad?” Wright-Berryman asked, and a wave of assent rolled arose. She nodded. “You are like firefighters. You are first responders. You are responding to all the fires we have to put out.”
More than 450 middle and high school students across Southwest Ohio got excused from class Monday to attend the first Ohio Hope Squad Conference at the Sharonville Convention Center. The students and their advisors have formed the region’s first Hope Squads – groups of peers trained to listen to classmates suffering disappointment, crisis, mental health problems or suicidal thoughts.
Hope Squad is a national movement to address the youth-suicide epidemic by countering the notion that teenagers don’t have the maturity to handle heavy emotions.
In Ohio, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among teenagers, and adults are wrong to think young people shouldn’t talk about suicide, said Wright-Berryman, a suicide expert in the School of Social Work at the University of Cincinnati. She also is the national research director for Hope Squad.
“These kids know just how bad the problem is,” she said. “They know better than most adults do.”
Hope Squad moved into Southwest Ohio thanks to Diane Egbers of Cincinnati, whose 15-year-old son Grant died of suicide in 2015. She said Monday she wanted her foundation, Grant Us Hope, to give teenagers tools and language to help each other.