BELLBROOK, Ohio (WDTN) — Jaime Burnham teaches sixth grade at Bellbrook Middle School, but she is also a mental health advocate.
“My sister had mental health issues and it all started in middle school, and I’m always thinking to myself, if this was an available resource for her, then maybe we wouldn’t have had the outcome that we had,” Burnham explained.
She is now an advisor for the Hope Squad, a group created to help students who might be struggling.
“It really focuses on suicide awareness, but it’s all encompassing mental health. So whether it’s depression or anxiety, we try and help kids with any of those kind of issues,” Burnham said.
The Hope Squad was created in 2020, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was not able to off the ground right away. Now, a room full of students is ready to help their fellow classmates, including Micah Likens.
“I always really enjoyed helping people, whether it was a family member or someone I didn’t know. I always felt better helping people and sometimes just saying, ‘Hey, do you need help?’, it can really make someone’s day,” Likens said.
Each student was nominated by their peers to become a member of the squad.
“They’re good communicators. They’re good listeners. They’re respectful and courteous. And so they were all chosen by their peers, which is key to the program working,” Burnham said.
They are available 24/7 to help students through whatever they are dealing with. Faith Brown said she has learned a lot so far.
“I learned how to pick up on warning signs and risk factors of someone who might be having suicidal thoughts. And I’ve learned how to get them to help and to respond to someone who may come to me with those problems,” Brown said.
The goal is to meet students where they are at, and provide a safe space for them to open up and ask for help.
“It’s a time for me to help them and talk to them. If they’re confused with life, I can help them with what to do and help them choose the right path,” Delano Boyd said.
The Hope Squad members help their fellow classmates navigate difficult feelings and find ways to cope.
“These are skills that I can use for the rest of my life, and knowing that some of these people don’t have these resources made me feel really sad for them,” Olivia Sherer explained.
Most importantly, the group is there to be a friendly face and remind students they are not alone.
“Everyone deserves to have someone that they can talk to when they’re feeling hopeless. But not everybody has someone like that in their life. Hope Squad is the solution to that,” Abby Long said.
Burnham said this group is already making a difference and providing life saving support during a time when so many kids are struggling with mental health issues.
“‘I’ve had multiple parents email saying, ‘Hey, the conversation you had or the conversation a Hope Squad member had with my students saved their life.’ I’ve gotten phone calls that are like, ‘the one thing you said allowed my son to say, I need help.’ And we got help before it was too late,” Burnham said.
The Hope Squad is now working to bring its resources out into the community so more people know there are resources are available for them and their kids.