Hope Squad program to come to Prosper after teen suicide
March 28, 2019
This article was originally published on Feb. 1, 2019.
After a long time of struggling, 18-year-old Braden Speed took his own life Oct. 30, 2018. Students Hope Rasberry, Greg Valek, Kailee Walters, Laurissa Miller, Ashlyn Stokes, and Courtney Yates – along with members of the Speed family – now work to eradicate the isolation students can feel through forming the Braden’s Voice Team. They are working to bring a program called Hope Squad to the high school.
Hope Squad started at a high school in Provo, Utah plagued with suicide. Utah has a suicide rate 2.5 times higher than the U.S. average. Their principal called for change and brought in psychology students from a local college to start the Hope Squad.
“They went into the school and did this social experiment where they said, ‘Do you guys want to make a difference or do you want to continue on this track’,” Braden’s father, Mark Speed, said. “They said ‘we don’t want this anymore.’ I think that’s what’s going on here. People don’t want this anymore.”
The Hope Squad members in Utah were selected by a student ballot. Administrators distributed ballots to every student. The sheet asked kids what student they would go to if they were having a hard time. They discovered about 40 names that rose to the top of the list, which formed the Hope Squad. These students then trained on how to handle others’ situations as well as how to support them. The same process and training will happen in Prosper.
“I think it’s really important because one of the things that have been really hard was Braden was such a relationship-driven kid from the time he was little,” Braden’s mother, Cathy Speed, said. “He was into deep relationships, and he could not find that here. He felt like he was alone. He felt like nobody cared about him.”
Each student who is a part of Braden’s voice team has been impacted by suicide, whether they have been through a dark time themselves or have had friends close to them who have dealt with suicidal thoughts or actions. In the past four years, Prosper has experienced four students leave this world via suicide.
“All of a sudden, people listen when you lose someone,” Cathy Speed said. “I just wish these programs would have been in place sooner. I truly believe some of these programs would have made a difference and possibly saved him. He came home after school after another student was lost, and was so sad and angry. He felt like the student was too soon forgotten, no one mentions it like he didn’t exist.”
Provo was able to put Hope Squads in 31 out of the 41 school districts in Utah, and administration is now helping it make its way to Prosper.
“The goal is to make sure that every student feels a part of the Eagle Family,” principal John Burdett said. “I don’t say that lightly or as a platitude. I really want every student to be a part of this incredible family of students, staff, and community. Hope Squad supplements this by helping students who are really struggling and need some help.”
Since the loss of their son, the Speeds have been dedicated to making sure no one feels alone. They’ve started opening their home on Sunday nights to those who need a place to talk and to be with others to make a space for the relationships their son needed.
“We have to be determined to do something different besides just be nicer to each other – cause it isn’t workin’,” Mark Speed said. “We want to go deeper. They want to start having connections with kids who don’t fit in or don’t have a place or feel welcome. We’ve decided to open our home. It’s a totally informal thing – just a place for kids. There’s no partying. There’s no drinking, no judging. It’s a safe space.”
With the world of social media being so prominent in students lives it can sometimes make it easy to feel alienated.
“A big piece of this was social media,” Cathy Speed said. “He thought he was the only one at home on his couch, but he’s not. Braden had thousands and thousands of friends on social media, but he felt so alone. What we’re finding is people are made for relationships, but what kids now view as a relationship is how many likes they get on a picture. You can buy people to go follow you. You are paying people to like you so that you feel you have value and self-worth when what you really need is someone to reach out. If just one person would have reached out it would have made all the difference.”
Braden’s father is dedicated to making sure his son did not die in vain. In December 2018, Mark Speed started a blog called Braden’s Voice. He shares Braden’s stories and his family’s struggles since their loss. The blog has reached more than 20,000 people in the U.S. and has been viewed in 49 countries.
“We’ve had several parents reach out whose kids are on suicide watch but have made a commitment to live because of him,” Cathy Speed said.”I know that we’re touching somebody.”
Hope Squad, or another effective program like, is projected to become an active part of Prosper after February 2019. According to Burdett, administrators are looking for an option that does use a student-led effort to establish the relationships kids like Braden needed.
“No one should have to feel like their alone in this world,” Rasberry said. “I can’t sit back and let it happen anymore. I got through it, but some kids don’t. We see that there needs to be a change so we have to.”
Braden’s voice blog: https://bradensvoice.blog/
ABC news article: https://www.wfaa.com/article/news/prosper-parents-hope-to-turn-sons-suicide-into-teaching-moment/287-626092293?jwsource=cl
Provo High School suicide prevention: https://www.wfaa.com/article/news/prosper-parents-hope-to-turn-sons-suicide-into-teaching-moment/287-626092293?jwsource=cl
Community, organizations unite for suicide prevention
The “Prosper Parents Panel for Suicide Prevention: Hurting, Helping, Healing” event will take place in the Prosper Town Hall Council Chamber, today, Nov. 15.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which raises funds for scientific research, public education and support for survivors, will sponsor a “Survivor Day” event in Dallas, Nov. 17. Today’s event, sponsored by the Prosper Parents’ Panel for Suicide Prevention, will run today from 6:30-8 p.m.
“Nationwide, a quarter of a million people participate in these walks,” AFSP North Texas Board Member Wendy Tyler said. “In Prosper’s walk, we had 427 people – not counting children.”
The Nov. 3 “Out of the Darkness” walk held in Prosper’s Windsong Ranch, raised $40,733, for the AFSP’s outreaches. The group had set a goal of $35,000.
“Survivor Day is also a big thing the AFSP does,” Tyler said. “It’s every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and it’s for survivors specifically. It’s a beautiful event.”
The first national “Survivors of Suicide Day” began in 1999.
“It offers hope to them; it provides resources that they may need,” Tyler said. “That’s probably the biggest way we bring people together and offer that.”
Organization receives charitable donations
The organization’s programs are funded through charitable donations, like those received as a result of the “Out of Darkness” walk.
“Half of donations go towards research and education programs,” Tyler said. “The other half stays right here in North Texas to be used to support schools, communities, and “Survivor Day.”
For those who can’t afford to donate money, the AFSP offers other ways to support the organization, like participating in a fundraiser walk.
“I think these walks are important because in the past four years we have experienced four suicides among our seniors of each class,” senior Piper Wise said. “I think it’s become an epidemic and we need to create awareness and raise money for the AFSP.”
The organization offers several programs for teenagers and adults.
“We have education programs, one of them is called ‘More Than Sad,’ and it helps teenagers to recognize the signs of depression in themselves and others,” Tyler said. “If you think someone is suicidal, please tell an adult because that is the biggest thing that you guys can do.”
Groups provide ways to get involved
There are several ways to get involved and take action, like the awareness walks and prevention programs.
“Students should participate in the walks and spread the word about it,” Wise said. “A couple months ago we had our ‘Talks Save Lives’ discussion at the school, which really helped educate parents and students on the matter.”
Wise believes that students should be doing more during mental health awareness month, participating in awareness walks, and getting more education on prevention.
“Students should be willing to listen to their friends without judgment,” Tyler said. “If somebody you know is struggling, if you sense it at all, ask them if they’re ok, and be willing to listen because you don’t need to offer advice if you just be there and listen.”
For information, on the event tonight, see the following resources supplied by the Prosper Parents Panel for Suicide Prevention flyers.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention organizes ‘Talk Saves Lives’ presentation
The ‘Talk Saves Lives’ presentation on warning signs and risk factors for suicide will be today, Aug. 28, at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention North Texas Board Member Wendy Tyler will talk about suicide prevention and awareness as well as answer questions parents have.
“The whole thing is basically a community-based program from the AFSP, and it’s really to not just help people see warning signs because we hear about them all the time, but it’s to talk about risk factors as well,” Tyler said. “Then, we will look at the research and the statistics and what people can do to prevent it from happening.”
Attending the presentation will be free of cost to community members by funding raised through Prosper’s ‘Out of the Darkness’ walk last November.
“So many people are unaware of how prevalent suicide and attempts are with our teenagers,” Tyler said. “In the United States, it is estimated between 100 and 200 teenagers attempt for every one suicide death that occurs. It’s not more common in low-income areas than in high-income areas. It is across the board.”
Tyler said students who have suicidal ideations can be from all different backgrounds, and it’s not only because they’ve had a bad day.
“One of the things I will talk about tomorrow is how so many parents see their teenagers and how they may have gone through a breakup, didn’t get into the college they wanted to or that there was some precipitating factor and don’t know all that went on before,” Tyler said. “There could’ve been underlying issues as well. It’s never just one cause.
Senior Lauren Moss had a friend who ended his life her sophomore year. She attended the high school until her junior year when she moved to McKinney Boyd High School.
“I hear people making jokes about wanting to kill themselves, and sometimes it reaches the point where you don’t know when someone is actually crying for help until it’s too late,” Moss said. “It’s important to be able to reach out to these people and talk to them about getting help.”
Moss said it is important for parents to learn warning signs now so their kids can receive help because in the cases she’s seen about teenage suicide, the parents never saw or understood the signs.
“I think it has become popular to be self-degrading (rather) than confident,” Moss said. “You see YouTubers and other influencers on social media putting themselves down constantly, and it becomes this example for other people. It becomes this ‘norm,’ and I guess more people think it’s cool now to be depressed and not get help. I think it needs to be a goal we all have that those people receive the help they need, so they don’t have this weight on their shoulders.”
Senior Piper Wise also said she sees people make jokes about ending their lives more often than not.
“Suicide jokes have become this thing where, I don’t want to say it’s common, but it really is normal for people to say they have too much homework, and that they want to kill themselves,” Wise said. “It really shouldn’t be a joke. You never know when someone could be saying things like that jokingly, if they’re actually having those kinds of thoughts, or if they’re borderline. It’s insensitive and can be triggering to others.”
The message Moss wants to let teenagers know is that everything does get better, whether or not they believe it yet.
“If you think it may be easier to everyone else if you weren’t around anymore, that is so far from true,” Moss said. “The year after I lost my friend was a hard year. It was extremely hard. I constantly thought about him. Everything may be hard now, but it will get better. You don’t want to take a life away which you can build on and impact more people with.”
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK. Tyler has also included her email, firstname.lastname@example.org, if people have questions or need to talk.