Teen suicide awareness

Lexington high schoolers ‘Spread the Love’ to prevent teen suicide

Written by Jennifer Perry, LCSW, a social worker at UK Adolescent Medicine. This post is part of a series written by Dr. Hatim Omar and his team in Adolescent Medicine related to the unique health concerns faced by teens and young adults.

Last Thursday, more than 100 Lexington high schoolers gathered to promote positivity among their peers and send messages of encouragement, or lifelines, to one another. Around Valentine’s Day every year for the past eight years, UK Adolescent Medicine and Stop Youth Suicide have hosted the event, called Spread the Love-A-Thon, to raise awareness about teen suicide and mental health.

The event is centered on the idea of making lifelines. Participants make lifelines with their peers by sharing compliments via social media, text message, phone call or any other means of technology. They also share statistics about suicide. The idea is to put daily social media habits and interaction to good use.

Teens spend hundreds of hours with their friends, but how often do they talk about why they like each other? Spread the Love-A-Thon is an opportunity for our participants to tell their friends something specific they appreciate and why it makes them special. The hope is that the compliment will stick, and the person will remember it when they have a bad day.

During the event, teens don’t have to read from a printed script but are urged to offer one or two genuine compliments. The best compliments usually start with something that the teen appreciates about the other person. It’s best when that thing isn’t something that changes often or easily.

We also encourage the students to share statistics that show just how common thoughts of suicide are in the adolescent population. For example, one in three Kentucky high school students report being sad or depressed to the point that their daily functioning is impaired. Even I was pretty shocked to learn that 11 percent of high schoolers in the U.S. have made a plan to commit suicide, and 9 percent actually attempt suicide every year.

Each participant tracks their lifelines over the course of the two-hour event. At the end, we celebrate with pizza and recognize the 50 participants who created the most lifelines. In 2016, we had 165 participants who made 6,905 lifelines!

For the past three years the event has been held at Tates Creek High School in Lexington and has been co-hosted by the Tates Creek’s FCCLA club (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America). Having it at Tates Creek gives students the opportunity to really own the event. They make unique invitations to Spread the Love and hand deliver them the day before the event. They also do a week of suicide awareness in their school by hanging posters with statistics and hosting a wellness fair, where they invite community members to share information about resources available to teens.

Ultimately, Spread the Love-A-Thon is an opportunity for students to see how meaningful simple gestures of kindness and positivity can be.

“This event is so important because so many people really doubt themselves. Some people don’t really think they’re worth anything, so events like this are great for people to come spread positive vibes, give love,” said Blake Caudill, a senior at Tates Creek High School. “You never know what a text message could do  how it could help someone’s day.”

Check out a few photos from this year’s event!


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