MAD-HOPE Presenters smile for a photo after their presentation.

For the past three years, the Whatcom County Health Department and the Whatcom Prevention Coalition have partnered with Bellingham Public Schools in order to provide youth suicide prevention workshops throughout the county. The workshop, MAD–HOPE, (Making a Difference—Helping Other People Everywhere) Youth Suicide Prevention Project, was developed by a group of more than 60 people. The MAD–HOPE workshop is a baseline informative training session aimed to teach people to look for warning signs and build connections. More than 1,000 high school students and adults around Whatcom County have participated in this workshop in the past two years.

The MAD–HOPE workshop has been offered to all school districts in Whatcom County and other organizations including Western Washington University, the Opportunity Council Housing Project, the Boys and Girls Clubs and Bellingham Technical College Nursing Program. In addition, they have also presented to alternative schools for the Nooksack Tribe and Lummi Nation.

The purpose of MAD–HOPE is to “is to eliminate youth suicide by empowering school communities with opportunities for interpersonal connectedness, accurate information about youth suicide and practical tools designed to prevent it.” The Whatcom Prevention Coalition strives to provide the community with resources that can be used to save a life by working with students and adults to present this workshop to their peers.

During the workshop, participants gather in a circle while the presenter shares a PowerPoint and talks about warning signs and proper steps to take. Participants then take turns role-playing scenarios to test proper conversations.

“I have students from Bellingham High School come with us to coach the students or adults during the presentation,” says Jeff McKenna, a prevention specialist from Bellingham High School. “When we presented to Bellingham Technical College nurses, we had 10 students and five presenters working with 120 nursing students and other adults in the audience. The kids are a fantastic asset to MAD–HOPE and our community as a whole.”

After joining a workshop one day, Bellingham High junior, Colton Cummins said he was instantly drawn in. He left that first meeting ready to help out with the training next time.

“I just think it’s essential and imperative to have that quality training, to know how important it is reach out and connect with someone,” Cummins says.

Bellingham High senior, Kaitlyn Hurley has worked with MAD–HOPE all four years of high school. During her freshman year, she saw MAD–HOPE being started by a group of seniors and wanted to be a part of it. She found that helping others through their struggles was very rewarding.

“The biggest part is getting the word out about warning signs and how to help because school is where it’s hardest for students to reach out,” Hurley says.

There are student testimonials, training videos and resources given to students, located on the official MAD–HOPE website that shares warning signs of suicide and what to do if they should ever recognize these in their surroundings.

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