OHIO — Cuyahoga Falls High School students wrote positive messages on clothespins before distributing them during lunch to fellow students as an act of encouragement.

What You Need To Know

  • Youth suicide rates are closely tied to in-person school attendance, according to a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research

  • The study looked at how students adjusted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and found that the return to in-person schooling was linked to a 12-18% increase in teen suicide

  • The evidence-based suicide prevention program known as Sources of Strength works in partnership with the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation and PreventionFIRST!

“It’s always the small things that affect the bigger picture," said senior Emma Aloisi, 17.

It’s for a campaign with Sources of Strength, which is an evidence-based wellness program focused on suicide prevention.

“So, I think the whole point of this program is to encourage people to keep trying, keep working, keep going, because there is outside help always," Aloisi said.

Aloisi is proud to be part of this new group as a Peer Leader.

“I think everyone deserves to have a positive friend or mentor in their life and knowing that I have some myself, I want to do it for other people," she said.

Sources of Strength is new to the district. The program works in partnership with the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation and PreventionFIRST!.

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services funds it with CARES Act dollars.

Preliminary data from the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation show Sources of Strength has spread to approximately 180 schools, including 94 elementary schools and 85 secondary schools since 2021.

A new Ohio law known as the SAVE Students Act requires all schools to incorporate suicide awareness and prevention into the curriculum by the 2023-2024 school year.

Teacher Sam Alhadid said Cuyahoga Falls High School brought Sources of Strength to the school this year to get ahead of the curve.

“And we have to make people feel like they belong and that there is value to whatever contribution you have, right?" Alhadid said. "So, I think Sources is really good at accenting that by talking about here are the things that I feel strong in today, and I might not feel strong in every single element of my life at every single moment of my life, but it’s OK if I feel really good about this one chunk of my life and that’s what this is all about."

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected the mental health of school-aged children and caused them to miss out on social events and milestone moments like sporting events and prom.

But the adjustment back to in-person learning has proven to be another challenge.

“Just so difficult once you’re attempting to like re-enter society basically," Aloisi said. "You know, you’ve missed out on all of those great opportunities and you’re mourning the loss of them, basically. You’re trying to re-gain something you’ve never really had."

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those ages 15 to 19, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, there was a dip in suicide rates, but a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the return to in-person schooling was linked to a 12-18% increase in teen suicide.

“That increase by the way was not so much linked to being in-person as much as it was linked to the sense of failure," said Josephine Ridley, a licensed clinical psychologist. "Kids had fallen way behind. They were not doing well in school."

She sees adolescents at risk for suicide at her private practice and has decades of experience in suicide prevention. Throughout COVID-19 lockdowns, Ridley saw a big increase in the number of young people seeking support.

“They were struggling to make sense of it," she said. "To make their lives feel worth living. If we think about the things that give us a sense of purpose and a sense of life being worth living, a lot of it comes from the pleasure we get from interacting with others."

For students like Aloisi, Sources of Strength is making a difference by providing a space for connectedness and support.

“Our goal is to impact as many lives as we can here in Cuyahoga Falls and hope that those people will then spread it from there on," she said.