What is Sources of Strength?

Sources of Strength is a strength-based, comprehensive wellness program that focuses on suicide prevention but impacts other issues such as substance abuse and violence. The program is based on a relational connections model that uses teams of Peer Leaders mentored by Adult Advisors to change peer social norms about help seeking and encourages students to individually assess and develop strengths in their life.

Sources of Strength is most often implemented as a school-based program in middle school, high school, or college. However Sources of Strength is also often used in community, faith-based, and cultural settings. It promotes and focuses on connectivity, school bonding, peer-adult partnerships, and help seeking behaviors.

Trained peer leaders use their network of friends to:

  • Have one-on-one conversations.

  • Develop a Hope, Help, Strength messages using local faces and voices.

  • Present peer-to-peer presentations.

What are the steps to get started?

  • Awareness and Buy-In –  This often includes training of acommunity/coalition on Sources of Strength, obtaining key administrative support and conducting a brief protocol review of handling distressed/suicidal students.

  • Identify and train Adult Advisors – Identify 2-5 adult advisors that will mentor a peer leader team. Train adult advisors in the Sources of Strength process in peer leader recruitment and their role in meeting and guiding peer teams during the action step phase. Adult Advisorsare a mix of school staff and community adults – school counselors, teachers, youth workers, spiritual leaders, friendly aunties – that have high relational connectivity with students

  • Recruit and Train Peer Leaders – Peer Leader teams are often between 10-50 students in size. The initial peer leader training is provided by a certified Sources of Strength trainer in a highly interactive, 3-4 hour training. It is mandatory that the local Adult Advisors participate in the peer leader training.

  • Peer to Peer Contacts and Messaging – After the initial training, the Peer Leaders and Adult Advisors begin conversations with other Trusted Adults and their 5-10 closest friends as well as create a wide range of Hope, Help, Strength messaging activities targeting a wider and diverse peer group. Sources of Strength provides a recommended step-by-step guide of peer leader activities but teams are able to adjust based on their readiness level and perception of what will work best in their setting.

  • A pattern of meeting together, planning, problem solving, and then going out and activating a variety of strategies is used in all settings.  Some teams meet as often as once a week, others less frequently, but all peer teams are encouraged to complete several of the recommended strategies and use Hope, Help, Strength messaging rather than shock, trauma, or sad messaging.  Sources of Strength and resources assist with peers connecting with adults and their friendship groups. Peer teams are encouraged and expected to share their creative efforts with other teams across the country via the Sources of Strength website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Every group is required to provide honoring and recognition events for the Peer Leader team.

  • Ongoing Support and Technical Assistance – Sources of Strength staff are always available to help with troubleshooting.

How do we involve parents, guardians, and families? 

Parents can be a great support for a Peer Leader team and there are several ways to get them involved. Schools can host a Parent/Guardian Night for family members to be given tools and techniques to engage in and model strength-based conversations with their students. This training increases family members’ skills as trusted adults for students and helps them create strategies to integrate strength-focused content into their households and for their own personal wellness. Teams can send Peer Leaders to Parent/Teacher Conferences to explain Sources of Strength and ask families to interact with the Wheel and reflect on where they are strong. Some schools have chosen to send home a Sources newsletter or have used this Practicing Strength at Home packet, which is full of discussion topics and activities to do at home. Once a Sources of Strength team has had some success inside their school, they can consider hosting a family event where parents and other family members can experience Sources of Strength for themselves. Our parents/guardians and students can be a powerful public health arm when they are empowered with a message of Hope, Help, and Strength. 

How do we involve the community?

Invite various stakeholders (sheriff’s office, health providers, public health agents, mental health providers, faith-based communities, youth facing organizations, etc.) to a Sources of Strength Community Training. During this training, pitch the program and the work that Adult Advisors and Peer Leaders are doing in all schools in the district. Invite these members to imagine new connections, flow of support, communication, and resources. Ask how Sources of Strength language and activities could be used in other arenas or services to create a degree of shared language across the community. 

What steps are available to make this program sustainable? 

We encourage an Adult Advisor team that shares responsibility, rather than one Adult Advisor who does a majority of the work. It is really important to have strong communication and collaboration between the Adult Advisor team. Consider the best way to communicate with them and update each other. Is that a Slack channel? An email chain? Owl message delivery? It can be great to have a standing meeting amongst your Adult Advisor team to chat about planning, problem solving, and role sharing. Try to divvy up the load so multiple Adult Advisors are responsible for a portion of a meeting or campaign. 

The Sources of Strength Train the Trainer (T4T) model can also increase sustainability. Once a Provisional Trainer becomes Certified Local Trainer, the cost of the program drops from $5,000 per school to $500 annually for returning schools and $750 for new schools.

How does Sources of Strength work in collaboration with other programs? 

So much of Sources of Strength’s work is centered around collaboration with other programs and recognizing that we work better together! Our program is designed to be customized, so schools may add it into other prevention, leadership, diversity, academic, spirituality, and community programs, and more.

Can this program be implemented district-wide?

Yes, in fact it is encouraged! This kind of collaboration can broaden the impact of your peer led efforts and bolster the Sources message with other schools, groups, or initiatives, fostering shared language and common vision for health and well-being in the community. 

How will you engage students in suicide prevention activities?

Sources of Strength is one of the national leaders in recruiting, engaging, retaining, and successfully using Peer Leaders to engage other students. An essential element of the program is the effective recruitment and training of Adult Advisors who display connectivity, care, and positivity with the students. The program provides not only the initial training, but also ongoing consultation designed to support Peer Leaders and Adult Advisors. Recruiting and supporting the right Adult Advisors is critical for engaging students. 

Recruiting diverse Peer Leaders from a wide variety of social cliques and groups is an essential element in achieving the widespread social network impact that is core to the Sources of Strength model. The program is grounded in an interactive learning model, in which a “fun factor” plays an essential part of student engagement. Sources of Strength demonstrates a wide range of games that can be incorporated into presentations and messaging campaigns. Making use of students’ music, art, interests, drama, social media, etc., adds to the engagement of other students. Peer input and ownership is also essential; while formatted campaigns are available, they are often adapted to fit the culture, tone, style, and opportunities available in the individual schools. 

How will you engage staff and teachers in suicide prevention? 

Sources of Strength provides a great opportunity to help teachers and staff see their role as connectors for students who may be struggling, in emotional distress, or be suicidal. Staff should be clear on the strategy of starting with mental health or medical referrals, but also getting numerous strengths around a suicidal student. The Sources of Strength Wheel is often incorporated into the staff culture and used in student assistance meetings regarding various different issues. Functioning as a workplace wellness model, Sources of Strength has been very effective in helping highly stressed staff identify and access specific resources and strengths around them. Rather than being viewed as “just another program,” many staff members comment that their Sources of Strength staff training is personally helpful for them and that the content can be easily incorporated into their daily lives. Schools can also consider implementing an  All Staff training to increase staff skills as trusted adults for students (having a trusted adult is a strong protective factor for preventing suicide and many other risk factors) and create strategies to integrate strength-focused content into classrooms, in communication with students, and within their own personal lives.