By Nikki Kontz, LMSW

September is national Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

In recognition of this important month, we’re helping teens throughout Arizona find hope – one of the keys in preventing suicidal thoughts and behaviors – and we’ve enlisted students and others on school campuses to help.

From September 3-10, students, educators and parents throughout Maricopa County will be handwriting thoughtful and encouraging messages of hope on thin strips of paper which will be assembled into paper chains. Each “Connections of Hope Paper Chain” will be a tangible demonstration of the hope teens can find among their peers and adults at their schools.

We even have prizes for the schools whose students generate the most messages of hope for constructing their chains.

Research shows that feelings of hope and connection are protective factors that can prevent teen suicide. That’s why we’re investing our time and resources encouraging teens to create Connections of Hope Paper Chains at their schools. The chains will give teens throughout Arizona a literal connection to hope and a visible sign of emotional support.

Messages written on the links of the chain will provide encouragement to fellow students who may be struggling with depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide or just having a bad day. After the chains are completed, they will be displayed somewhere on campus for students to take a link with a positive message when they are having a difficult day.

Providing hope is powerful. In fact, if we could talk with you face to face, these are the messages we would give you:

  • Hang in there!
  • You matter.
  • You’re not alone.
  • The world needs who you are!
  • Take it one day at a time!
  • You’ve got this!

If you find yourself struggling this September – or anytime – try one of the following methods to regain some hope in your life.

  1. Talk about it.Talking with someone lets you process your feelings and can help you feel better. Call or text a friend or family member. Find a trusted adult to talk with. Or, if there’s not someone you feel comfortable talking to, call or text Teen Lifeline at 602-248-TEEN (8336). If you’re not ready to talk about your problems out loud, journaling can provide a positive way to process difficult feelings.
  2. Get involved. Find a club, activity or group you’re interested in and get involved. Finding new ways to connect to other people can give you something to look forward to and help boost your sense of hopefulness.
  3. Make Small Changes. Sometimes, when you feel despair, taking one small step out of your routine can help you feel more in control and reduce feelings of being powerless. Small things, like making your bed, opening a window or cooking a healthy meal, can make a difference over time.
  4. Be Kind. Kindness can trigger the release of serotonin, which may reduce stress and lift your mood. Look for small acts of kindness to perform daily or weekly to help boost your level of hope.
  5. Exercise. When you feel overwhelmed, exercising can help relieve stress. Find an activity you enjoy and make time to participate at least several times a week. Some options could include skateboarding, hiking, biking, running, swimming or playing sports.

Remember – Teen Lifeline is available 24/7/365 at (602) 248-TEEN (8336) or (800) 248-TEEN. The hotline is staffed by teen peer counselors from 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. daily. Trained counselors are available at all other times.

You can also text with a teen peer counselor at (602) 248-8336 between the hours of 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. every day of the year.