Hope Squad's programming is built on two important theories: Kalafat and Elias's findings around peer-to-peer disclosure of suicide risk and Joiner's Interpersonal Theory of Suicide.

In 1992, researchers John Kalafat and Maurice Elias investigated how high school students respond after learning about a peer’s suicidality. They found that only 25% of students indicated confiding in a trusted adult about their peer’s suicide risk, revealing the opportunity of peer-to-peer suicide prevention.

Thomas Joiner, an American psychologist and leading expert on suicide, founded the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide. In his book, Why People Die by Suicide, Joiner describes three mechanisms which, in tandem, identify those at risk for completing suicide: perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness, and capability for suicide.

Joiner’s research further argues how this theory can be applied to suicide prevention in schools by way of addressing student concerns related to perceived burdensomeness and thwarted belonging.

In 2012, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published a toolkit that reinforces the value of programs like Hope Squad in helping schools prevent suicide.

Hope Squad members are student-nominated, trusted peers taught how to listen and refer students in need to a trusted adult—without judgement. Hope Squad integrates intentional outreach to increase feelings of belonging to all students regardless of their emotional state, mental health, or suicide risk.

Research Partners

Research is fundamental to Hope Squad’s mission and is integral to the ongoing development and successful delivery of the evidence-based programming. We partner with academic researchers and other subject matter experts to evaluate and continuously improve our programming.

Theory References

  • Kalafat, J., & Elias. M. (1992). Adolescents' experience with and response to suicidal peers. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 22(3), 315-321. Link

  • Joiner, T. E. (2005). Why people die by suicide. Harvard University Press.

  • Joiner, T. E., (2009). Suicide prevention in schools as viewed through the interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior. School Psychology Review, 38(2), 244–248. Link

  • Mazza, J. J, & Reynolds, W.M. (2008). School-wide approaches to prevention of and intervention for depression and suicidal behaviors. Transforming School Mental Health Services, 213–241. Corwin Press; Sage Publications.

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012, June). Preventing suicide: A toolkit for high schools. Link

  • Surgenor, P. W. G., Quinn, P., & Hughes, C. (2016). Ten recommendations for effective school-based, adolescent, suicide prevention programs. School Mental Health, 8(4) 413–424. Link


In review of the 2023-2024 Mental Health Referral Form, over 95% of referrals come from non-Hope Squad members, indicating that our peer-to-peer gatekeeper training model effectively increases intentional help-seeking behaviors throughout the school environment.

Peer-Reviewed Publications

  • Wood, D. S., Ohri, F., Hudnall, G., & Cahoon, L. (2023). Suicide gatekeeper training outcomes in educational and religious settings. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 33(2), 225-231. Link

  • Wright-Berryman, J., Thompson, D., & Cramer, R. J. (2022). Reducing suicide-related stigma through peer-to-peer school-based suicide prevention programming. Children & Schools, 44(4) 1-8. Link

  • Wright-Berryman, J., Hudnall, G., Bledsoe, C., & Lloyd, M. (2018). Suicide concern reporting among Utah youths served by a school-based peer-to-peer prevention program. Children & Schools, 41(1), 35-42. Link

  • Wright-Berryman, J., Hudnall, G., Hopkins, R., & Bledsoe, C. (2018). Hope Squads: Peer-to-peer suicide prevention in schools [Practice Highlights]. Children & Schools, 40(2), 125-126. Link

  • Hansen, A., Heath, M. A., Williams, M., Fox, J., Hudnall, G. A., & Bledsoe, C. (2012). No-suicide contracts with suicidal youth: Mental health professionals’ perceptions and current practice. Contemporary School Psychology, 16(1), 145–159. Link

  • Heath, M. A. & Hudnall, G. (2011). Special issue on strengthening school-based support for bereaved students: Editors’ introduction. School Psychology International, 32(2), 115-116. Link

Other Articles & Publications

  • Morris, S. R. (under review). Exploring Peer-Assisted Learning Tutor Experiences in Hope Squad [dissertation, Utah State University].

  • Kusel, O. (2023). The emotions that walk into school. The Currere Exchange Journal, 7(1), 77-86. Link

  • Rittmeyer, B. C. (2022, Sept. 28). Suicide prevention Hope Squad introduced to Valley High School students – Valley News Dispatch. Link

  • Bowman, N. (2022, May 22). Hope Squad brings awareness to mental health concerns – Dayton Daily News. Link

  • Gewertz, C. (2022, March 1). Students Train to Spot Peers with Mental Health Struggles and Guide Them to Help. Education Week – Special Report. Link

  • Osterhues, P. M. (2021, August). Educators’ perspective of suicide prevention program: Hope Squad [master’s thesis, University of Dayton]. Link

  • Barnhart, T. (2021, April 21). The Hope Squad at Adena High School is working to break the stigma of mental health – Chillicothe Gazette. Link

  • Rainock, M. R. (2018). Hope for Utah:? Exploring the Long-Term Impacts of Peer-Based Suicide Prevention Among Adolescents. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. Link