Hope Squads help support student mental health across Wisconsin

March 20, 2024

BROOKFIELD, Wis. — Hope Squads are making a difference in students’ mental health.

The Hope Squad program began in Utah in 2004 as a suicide prevention method. Each squad is made up of students who have training to support their peers. They learn how to facilitate conversations about mental health.  

Wisconsin’s first Hope Squad is in the Elmbrook School District.

“Sometimes it is me reaching out to someone I see is struggling,” said Brookfield Central senior and Hope Squad member Cooper Devine. “Maybe I see them and they’re acting different than they usually do, and I don’t know what that means. So I ask them about it.”

Members of the Hope Squad are nominated by their peers. Their curriculum includes things like how to set boundaries, language to use and when to involve a trusted adult.

“We’ve really seen a shift in that open dialogue around mental health and self-care and wellness,” said Brookfield Central school psychologist Jennie Katrichis.

Staff at Elmbrook found the program after a devastating year for their community.

"We experienced a significant amount of loss around 2015,” said Aimee Schneidewent, Brookfield East school psychologist. “Since we’ve implemented Hope Squad, we’ve not had any loss.”

Visibility is a vital part of the program. All over the school, signs are posted listing the Hope Squad roster. That way, students know who to go to if they need support.

“They have wristbands, they have sweatshirts,” Schneidewent said. “We have a Hope Squad hallway at East with messages of hope, and they have their pictures shown. Every classroom has a poster with the student names so students know who they can go to.”

The Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows students are twice as likely to talk to a peer about mental health compared to an adult. That high level of awareness makes a big difference, according to Brookfield Central student and Hope Squad member Inzal Sharwani.

“We’re talking about it every week. We’re used to having these conversations,” Sharwani said. “With the whole visibility thing, people really know that there’s someone there for you.”

There are now more than 100 Hope Squads across Wisconsin.

“These guys have been the champions and our greatest ambassadors of hope,” Katrichis said. “We couldn’t be more proud and thrilled of the work they do each and every day.”