Hope Squad receives training at Camp Kern


Ryan Flecker

The Hope Squad posts encouraging flyers around the school to remind students to care for their mental health

The Kings High School’s Hope Squad recently spent the day at Camp Kern educating and training their members on how to support peers struggling with mental health and potentially suicide. 

Every year the Hope Squad goes on a retreat to refresh returning members’ training and teach the new members. This is taken very seriously, and Hope Squad actually has a curriculum they follow, the most prominent subject being QPR training. QPR stands for Question, Persuade, Refer. This describes how to be there for a friend having suicidal thoughts. First, you simply ask questions to let them know that you are there and that you care. Then, you persuade, in an attempt to help them see hope. Finally, you refer them to a trusted adult in order to get help. Students and teachers in the Hope Squad are trained in this every year during their retreat.

“We get all the Hope squad members together and this year we went to Camp Kern. It’s kind of team building so the Junior High and High School squads both go and we take turns so in the morning they were doing team-building stuff with the Camp Kern counselors, then in the afternoon they were with us and the Junior High was with the counselors. At the end of the day then we have school psychologists come in and we kind of review. For some of the kids, it’s new information, the sort of suicide training and how to refer to a trusted adult and that kind of stuff, and then we did kind of a general meeting,” said Margie Coleman. 

Hope Squad began at Kings in 2018 after a full year of careful planning on the sensitive topic. Heidi Murray and many others began planning and putting the idea into action in 2017, launched it in 2018, and have been continuing to improve it ever since. 

“Mrs. Apple at the Junior High alerted me to it and so I went to a meeting and she and I advocated for it, and so the district accepted that as an initiative and we just went from there,” said Murray.

Dr. Gregory Hudnall, a high school principal in the Provo City School District in Utah, started Hope Squad in 2004 after witnessing too many suicides among his student body. Hudnall refused to let these tragedies continue while he just watched them happen, so he began doing endless research, starting difficult conversations, and looking for the most effective way to help his students. Finally, he realized that in order to reach the kids, he had to seek help from other kids.

“What they noticed was every time a suicide happened, when they were counseling with the friends they would find out in pretty much every case that there were other friends who knew that this person was considering it, but the person swore them to secrecy and they honored their friend’s request for secrecy and now they wish they could go back and change their minds. But it was too late,” said Hope Squad advisor Margie Coleman. 

Adults and school staff came to the conclusion that no matter how kind and inviting teachers and counselors might be, at the end of the day, kids are going to talk to other kids. They will likely accept help and be more transparent if they talk to a friend, someone their own age whom they trust, than to a potentially intimidating adult. 

“Because we can talk until we’re blue in the face, but, really, you trust each other more than you trust us,” said school counselor and founder of the Kings Hope Squad, Heidi Murray. 

In order for this to be effective, however, schools must provide the proper training for Hope Squad members. These students must understand how to interact with a friend struggling with mental health issues in the best way possible and have plenty of adults to refer them to for help. 

“So we have to empower kids to understand what’s going on, we have to destigmatize mental health,” said Margie Coleman. “The idea is to find kids who people are already turning to and to try to just give them some tools to deal with it.” 

Hope Squad’s intent is to alleviate some of the pressure put on kids carrying the weight of a suicidal friend on their shoulders. The Hope Squad allows an out, a place where students can talk to other students about mental health, that of themselves or of their friends, and get immediate help from a trained student, and eventually more from a professional. 

“It’s not a student’s responsibility to save their friend. It’s their responsibility to get them to help,” said Heidi Murray.