OKLAHOMA CITY - A program to prevent youth suicides is making its way to the metro. The HOPE Squad initiative brings a different approach, by putting other kids on the front line of defense, and it is already working in one Oklahoma town. 

Three years ago, the Anadarko community was struggling to understand why so many kids were choosing to take their own lives, despite having a suicide prevention plan. Then, they implemented the HOPE Squad initiative.

Between 2015 and 2016, a handful of youth, one as young as 11, committed suicide in Anadarko.

“It was devastating,” remembered David Sullivan, the school district’s special programs director.

Tribal organizations approached the district with a potential solution. It was a program designed to train a group of trusted students, who are nominated by their peers, to identify the warning signs. Anadarko schools have not had a suicide since.

Sullivan said, “We are able to pick up and perceive more of the issues going on out there because of the fact that they’ve essentially become the eyes and ears of our counselors.”

Former school administrator Dr. Greg Hudnall now oversees a crisis team in Utah, and has seen firsthand how cyberbullying has become the number one contributor to youth suicide across the country.

“Now it goes out to hundreds, if not thousands,” said Hudnall, “and then the scarier part is it never goes away, that it’s always there as punishment, damage, humiliation or whatever.”

Hudnall initially created the Hope Squad to save his own students' lives.

“My district was averaging one to two suicides a year for over 10 years,” Hudnall recalled. “We put the HOPE Squad in. We went nine years without a suicide.”

The training starts as young as fourth grade, with an emphasis on positive reinforcement and speaking out against bullying.

Integris Health plans to bring the initiative to its own charter school Stanley Hupfeld Academy, and spent Tuesday sharing the training with other local educators, healthcare providers and faith groups at the Crossings Community Center.

Sullivan said, “We know that HOPE Squad will not stop every suicide, but we are making a difference to stop as many as possible.”

To learn more about how the HOPE Squad works and how to bring it to a school near you, click here.