Md. students receive training aimed to prevent suicide and depression among peers

It is a first this week for schools in Maryland. Some students are getting unusual training that may help save a life. It is called Sources of Strength.

It is a way to train young people how to watch out for others who may be sad or lonely or in need of help.

In the gym at Wootton High School, it may look like they are playing a game. But they are actually building a community.

This scene is comforting to a heart that has had a lot of heartache. Susan Rosenstock's son, Evan, died of suicide in 2013.

"He really just always had a smile on his face," said Rosenstock.

She has teamed with students to create a non-profit called umttr.

Umttr and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Montgomery County are funding this evidence-based suicide prevention program in several of the county's high schools, including here at Wootton.

"It's been very empowering for me to help people because Evan helped people all the time," Rosenstock said.

It is no secret Montgomery County kids feel pressure.

"We have a reputation for doing well or doing extremely well," said student Michael Panangos. "I think every kid wants to add to that and some will stress themselves out to do that."

"Everybody wants someone to be there for them," said student Toni Walker.

"Fifty percent of all people living with mental illness will have their first symptom before the age of 14," said Stephanie Rosen of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Montgomery County. "So this really is something that starts in youth, and if we want to get serious about prevention, then we need to do that with youth."

These students are now better trained to help their peers.

"They carefully selected you guys as students who have influence and sway within your friendship groups," Dan Adams, a national trainer for Sources of Strength, told the group of students.

For part of the program, our camera had to be outside of the room because they wanted to be sure the students felt comfortable to speak their minds.

Adams is constantly working to answer a question.

"How do we build resiliency, coping and strength into a community at the population level?" he said. "Almost on a public health model, through the use of peer leaders, so that when people do go through those ups and downs, they never get to the point where they want to give up."

A Wootton student and a recent alumnus died of suicide in the last year.

"This is about coming out of that loss and finding strength," said Rosen.

Students say they now know more about how to help each other.

"I would ask them what is wrong if they are feeling down," said Nahshon Plummer. "I would go up to them, ask the adult about them. See if there is anything I can do about it."

"I think we are definitely going in the right direction," said Panangos.