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Students create campaign to combat school shootings, expand awareness of 988 suicide hotline

'We want to change how people look at it. It isn’t just suicide, it’s everything,' adviser explains
Posted at 5:54 PM, May 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-23 11:11:37-04

ASHTABULA, Ohio — So far in 2023, 19 school shootings have taken place across the United States as of May 16, according to EdWeek. A group of students at Braden Middle School in Ashtabula has had enough.

"As a kid, it’s very disappointing," eighth grader Josiah Pope said.

"I get pretty scared because you don’t know when it can happen," eighth grader J.R. Crooks said. "It can happen at any time to anybody."

For the past year, students in a class titled "Youth for the Future" created a new way to market 988, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline number that replaced the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline last July.

The students pose with advisers Sally Bradley and Joslin Seeds and their poster after a presentation with area leaders at the Ashtabula County Building Resiliency Together (BRT) Collaborative meeting on May 10.

"We want to change how people look at [988]," classroom adviser Joslin Seeds said. "It isn’t just suicide. It’s everything."

The goal of the poster, which features a student wearing a hoodie, is to connect with students that the lifeline could also be used for other mental health challenges instead of strictly suicidal thoughts.

The idea, Seeds explained, came from watching school shooting after school shooting and learning that in some cases, the shooter tried to reach out for help.

RELATED: She checked her Instagram. She didn't expect a message from The Covenant School shooter.

"Young kids shouldn’t be dying," Pope added. "We want to get our program out there to as much people as we can."

"I think it might be one of the most important things I’ve done and might be in my life," Crooks explained.

In student Haiden Peterson’s case, fear took over his house.

"When I was in third grade, my mom home-schooled me and the rest of my siblings because she was scared of someone coming into the building and shooting us," Haiden explained.

988 launched in July 2022

Last year, 988 was unveiled across the country as the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, replacing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The new number is a chance for anyone across the country to call or text and reach a trained professional who can help those experiencing a mental health or an addiction crisis.

In Ohio, experts were expecting around a 40% increase in calls when the number changed, but tell News 5 they’ve only seen a slight uptick.

Across the state, that averages out to about 8,600 calls per month handled by counselors.

Help Network of Northeast Ohio handles the 988 calls for those living in Mahoning, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties.

"Today, the effects of the pandemic appear to be more mental health," said Vince Brancaccio, CEO of the Help Network of Northeast Ohio. "We're getting a lot more calls from people traumatized by the pandemic. They're feeling depressed, they're anxious and frightened and calling saying they need mental health."

It comes at a time when, whether it’s trauma, or the harmful effects of technology and social media, the impacts on our children's mental well-being are everywhere.

"We have a youth mental health crisis in our country," U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said during a visit to Cleveland in April. "We have to make sure counselors are in schools, that there's more mental health care in hospitals and clinics."

RELATED: U.S. Surgeon General talks with Cleveland students about school shootings, mental health, pandemic learning

What's next for the students' campaign?

The class, run by Seeds and Sally Bradley, meets every day with its all-male class to deal with the academic, social and emotional needs.

"We want the kids we see every day to normalize those feelings of depression and anxiety," Seeds explained.

Already, the campaign, which has not been finalized, is getting attention.

"Those young men, their voice is a force to be reckoned with," said Joleen Sundquist, Chief Clinical Officer at the Ashtabula-based Community Counseling Center. "There are thoughts that [988 is] just for people taking their own life. As our 'Youth for the Future' students said, it’s for hurt people who are thinking about hurting people. That could be themselves or someone else."

The next step will be for the poster to be finalized by the Ashtabula County Mental Health Recovery Services Board. If approved, the poster could end up on billboards, inside grocery stores, schools and more.

The students have their own ideas as well about how to catch the attention of their peers: from Instagram stories and Snapchat to the big screen at a Cleveland Cavaliers game.

Clay LePard is a special projects reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow him on Twitter @ClayLePard or on Facebook Clay LePard News 5

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