Add To Favorites

EDITORIAL: Mental Health Keep attention on awareness, resources

Free Press - 9/15/2023

Sep. 15—Why it matters: Estimates show anywhere from 25% to 40% of people have mental health problems.

A new program in Mankato schools for suicide prevention that teaches students how to be mental health "listeners" for their classmates stands as another sign of the community's continued efforts to attack this growing problem.

It is a concerted effort to help raise awareness of mental health challenges students are facing while offering a peer-to-peer program of support.

Teachers learned this week how to set up "Hope Squads" in schools by teaching students to be good listeners to their classmates around mental health issues. The students would not be mental health counselors, but simply learn to listen to their classmates who might be facing mental health issues and then persuade them to see a trusted adult or counselor who can get them the help they need.

About 10 teachers attended the training to be Hope Squad advisors. Students cannot just sign up to be on the Hope Squad but have to be nominated by their peers for being good listeners. The students will be trained to recognize signs of suicide that include, for example, someone saying they "wish they weren't here," giving away possessions, a change in appearance or decline of academic performance.

The program also offers another positive. Teachers are seeing students more and more concerned about their mental health and those of classmates. They're coming forward more, and this kind of peer-to-peer effort can only help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

The program was a part of the Greater Mankato Area United Way's suicide prevention initiative. That program has also brought nationally known suicide prevention speakers to the schools who not only gave presentations about their own battles with suicide, but also personally listened to any student who wanted to talk.

Last year, the United Way also started a pilot program of mental health navigators in schools to help elementary students and their families access mental health services.

The program has expanded this year with three more navigators, and the program will reach 13 districts in Blue Earth, Nicollet, Le Sueur and Waseca counties.

The suicide rate in Minnesota is 14.3 per 100,000 population, a level near the peak of 14.4 in 2019, which was the highest in the last two decades.

The Minnesota Department of Health says suicide is a preventable public health problem, that mental illness is treatable and recovery can happen. Its 2023-2027 suicide prevention plan calls for a comprehensive approach, including improving infrastructure of suicide prevention, collaboration among communities to set up early intervention strategies and crisis intervention and support for families touched by suicide.

Research shows that people are less likely to attempt suicide or die by suicide if they are surrounded by a supporting community that cares for and "affirms all community members," according to the health department report.

The latest Hope Squad school-based program will build that supporting community among students and be another tool to prevent death by suicide.

You can find mental health resources by Googling "mental health resources + mankato free press" or going to this site:

For the nationwide 24 hour, 7 day a week mental health help line dial or text 988 or to chat go to


(c)2023 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.)

Visit The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.) at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.