One of the unique aspects of Erika’s Lighthouse programming is that we believe that depression education is suicide awareness and prevention.

When Erika’s Lighthouse began, conversations around good mental health were rarely if ever discussed in the classroom. Our founders felt it was important to not just focus on suicide and depression but to develop a comprehensive program that focused on overall good mental health. The idea was to reach all the adults that might touch the life of a child so that everybody had the same vocabulary and the same awareness of where to go for help.

At first, our focus was to make sure everyone understood the signs and symptoms of depression and where to receive help, but we soon saw the need for everyone to understand what good mental health is and how to protect it. Educators, parents, and students are now discovering that paying attention to mental health is just as important as physical health. As we continue to drive towards school culture change, we would like to set the stage so anyone in a school setting is equipped to support a student and guide them to help if needed. This can and should include the bus driver, the school officer, social workers, nurses, and educators.

A Pew study from 2017 stated that “The total number of teenagers who recently experienced depression increased 59% between 2007 and 2017. The rate of growth was faster for teen girls (66%) than for boys (44%).” Depression is a risk factor for teen suicide so it is important to talk about how someone might even get to the point of suicide. Depression Education is suicide prevention. For more information on this, read our white paper built off of the ASCA school model policy for suicide prevention.

There are so many young people who struggle with depression, and while suicide is actually rare, when it happens, it affects more than the family. If you lose a child to suicide in your school community it’s a tragedy. At least 13 percent of your school population can be struggling with depression. Since we are educating all students, and not just those who have depression, there is a chance for some to say, “Wait a minute, I didn’t know that that was depression. I just thought this is what teenage years were supposed to feel like.” Now a school has an early intervention, early education, early awareness program going on where students might be able to more freely come forward and ask for the help they deserve.

It is key to understand that depression in students looks like so many different things. For example, some students have difficulty focusing, difficulty concentrating, some may show up to school late or not at all and some are in the principal’s office as behavior problems. Depression often gets misdiagnosed or is treated as behavioral issues This is just another reason it is important to educate both teens and teachers about the signs and symptoms.

One of the strengths of our mental health videos for the students is their authenticity. The messages delivered come from young people who look and sound like most students, making it easier for a young person to recognize themselves in our videos

The Pew research foundation also states that 96% of teens saw depression and anxiety as a problem amongst their peers and 70% of them thought it was a real serious problem. This demonstrates the need to address this topic in schools. Most teens are going to know somebody who has depression. Our programming provides teens the tools to make sure they know what to do to help take care of friends because oftentimes, friends are going to see changes before the adults do and they can be instrumental in showing concern. Our mental health lessons help teens recognize the difference between a friend being “bummed out” versus something more serious.

The Erika’s Lighthouse classroom programs offer one piece of a larger school mental health and suicide prevention model. The programming helps a school both in identifying youth that may be struggling as well as creating more inclusive classrooms. Our programs are now skills-based and being taught in health classes offering students practical tools to help to seek help and protect their mental health. Ultimately, these mental health lessons are creating inclusive cultures within school communities enabling teachers to feel confident and capable, and having these conversations

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