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2018-12-05 / Front Page

DelCo Students Peer Train to Thwart Suicide, Substance Use

By Lillian Browne


Delaware Academy seniors Aileen Nealis and Anna Post participate in the Sources of Strength peer training and support program held at Delaware Academy on Nov. 28. Lillian Browne/The Reporter Delaware Academy seniors Aileen Nealis and Anna Post participate in the Sources of Strength peer training and support program held at Delaware Academy on Nov. 28. Lillian Browne/The Reporter DELHI - Nearly 116 Delaware County students - from Margaretville, Stamford and Delaware Academy - participated in the second annual “Sources of Strength” peer training and support program to promote awareness and prevention of suicide and substance use. The program was organized and funded by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Delaware County Rural Health Alliance, in partnership with the University of Rochester.

Program co-facilitator Chelsea Keller-Elliott, who is a prevention specialist, led the students in a day full of activities, games and peer mentoring to help them identify their sources of strength which they can lean on to get through hard times.

The students identified individualized sources of strength including: mental health resources; spirituality; healthy activities; positive friends; medical access; family support and mentors.


Chelsea Keller-Elliott, a co-facilitator of the ‘Sources of Strength’ training program, standing above the crowd, guides Delaware County students in games to break down barriers to making positive choices. Lillian Browne/The Reporter Chelsea Keller-Elliott, a co-facilitator of the ‘Sources of Strength’ training program, standing above the crowd, guides Delaware County students in games to break down barriers to making positive choices. Lillian Browne/The Reporter The students learned how to develop resiliency through peer mentoring activities, break-out sessions and integrative games. They were also able to meet peers from other school districts in Delaware County.

“Sources of Strength is radically ‘upstream prevention’,” Keller-Elliott said. The program is focused on building upon the students strengths so they don’t get to a crisis point. “It’s not about intervening with a student who is already in crisis. It’s about doing everything we can so students can face challenges and be resilient.”

Everyone has strengths in their lives, she continued, and no one should ever feel so alone that they feel like giving up.

The program is heavily focused on involving others and encourages students not to try to help someone by themselves.

Residents in any community can be susceptible to suicide; but rural communities - such as those found in Delaware County - have unique challenges: isolation, population decline, and faltering economies that can all act as triggers for self harm.

The program does not focus on what’s wrong. Rather, Keller-Elliott said, it focuses on the positive things like opportunities for connection. Small towns have an advantage, she said, because people know each other and they support each other.

Anna Post, a senior at Delaware Academy, participated in the program for the second time. The program is beneficial, she said. “You feel like there is always someone you can turn to. You never feel alone.”

Through her participation in the program, Post learned that though she struggles with some of her strengths, she was able to help others identify their own.

According to Sources of Strength literature provided to participating students, suicide risk factor and warning signs for youth and young adults include:

• Previous suicide attempts

• Depression, hopeless or helpless feelings

• Drinking, using drugs or heavy nicotine use

• Increased anger, conflict, aggression, irritability

• Trauma incident such as rape, abuse, harassment or fights

• Recent loss of family or friend by death or suicide

• Isolating behaviors toward friends, family and activities

• Injury or illness that disables, even temporarily

• Harassment for sexual orientation

• Talking or joking about suicide

• Doing poorly in school, skipping classes

• Death themes in music, writing or art

• Losing interest in things previously enjoyed

• Giving possessions away

Substance abuse is involved in over 65 percent of teen suicide attempts. Relationship breakups, the literature continues, can be triggers for suicide attempts.

The mission of the program is to help students and staff turn toward their strengths. Nine Delaware Academy staff members participated in the adult-modified program the previous day.

For more information about the program visit sourcesofstrength.org or find them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

For support and guidance call the National Lifeline at 1.800.273. TALK(8255).

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