DOVER — After the Class of 2022 lost three students to suicide in three years, students like Dover High School senior Elianne Bororing said enough is enough.
“It starts with us,” Bororing said. “Having ended our junior year with another student suicide, we decided that we had to do something. There was a pattern in our class that we couldn’t let continue. We don’t want to lose another peer.”
A group of students decided they wanted to do more to help address mental health. The most recent death of 16-year-old Andre Schaeffer in June 2021 left students concerned for the wellbeing of their class.
Bororing said while students knew there were efforts by school administrators to address mental health, they wanted a seat at the table and a chance to equip themselves with training to help guide other students toward the help they need.
Students discussed their work with local mental health advocates and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire during her Wednesday visit to the high school. State Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, was also present.
Thirty high school students and 15 teachers received youth suicide prevention training in November, as part of NAMI-NH’s “Connect” Youth Suicide Prevention program. The program teaches the risk and factors of a mental health crisis, suicidal ideation and the steps to keep a suicidal person safe. Once the training is complete, these students and teachers can go on to train others in the school. The Dover Mental Health Alliance and NAMI-NH have been partners in helping equip the students with the resources they need.
Dover High School students formed a Mental Health Initiative this school year, guided by Tom Waldron, the dean of students. The initiative began last summer with student leaders eager to change the culture at DHS regarding mental health.
Shaheen sat in the high school’s library, surrounded by a circle of 20 students who have completed the suicide prevention training. She listened to students share stories of their own struggles with mental health, and heard from administrators and mental health advocates on how the program is doing and how she can help.
“It's really impressive what these students have been able to do and the initiative that they've taken. It speaks to their resilience and their ability to do something positive as the result of some of the tragedy that happened here,” Shaheen said after the discussion. “I think it's a great model. It needs support from the community, from the schools and from organizations like NAMI-NH, as the students pointed out, who can help give them the tools they need.”
Shaheen asked the students to discuss how mental health has affected them since the pandemic. Students talked about the difficulty adapting to spending a year in remote learning, where their personal spaces at home suddenly became their classrooms. Many found it hard to find balance, leading to negative effects on their mental health.
Students take the lead
As part of this initiative to normalize conversations about mental health, Dover High School students are planning on talking to the middle and elementary school students to educate them on how to take care of their mental health and who to contact when they feel they need help. The students consider themselves “the middle man,” as one student put it.
“Personally, we aren't responsible for helping these people directly, but we are responsible for connecting them to the right people that are professionals and can better help them,” said Kieran Patch, a junior. “We have a list of resources and support systems, and we can share those resources to our friends or peers who we see are struggling.”
The program isn’t just about helping current students, it’s about building the foundation to help future students. Bodie Townsend, a senior, has a brother who is a freshman. He said that he can’t wait to see this program grow, and see how the future classes can benefit from understanding mental health sooner.
Ally Long, the senior class president, said she believes the training has been helpful and empowering to students.
“Mental health and wellbeing is at the base of every single issue that people face day to day,” Long said. “As a senior, I want to leave behind a legacy that can aid younger students with their mental well-being and feel supported even when they are struggling.”
One student shared that she might not be here today if it wasn’t for the people around her that helped her through her lowest points. The students expressed this is the kind of hope they want to spread. They are also working on a mural with words of inspiration that they hope to complete in the spring.
District shares pride in students
Dean of Students Tom Waldron said that he’s immensely proud of his students, and how far they’ve taken this simple idea, and grown it into what it is today.
“To see something entirely student-led start off so small and grow to gain so much support and momentum is great,” Waldron said. “It’s all them. They’re taking charge of these conversations, and while we're here to support them, they are mature and capable enough to have these conversations and have their own influence on the school culture.”
Ann Duckless, of NAMI-NH, told the students that while they have experienced much grief, it’s inspiring to see how resilient they are.
“I really see the senior class as one that overcomes adversity, is strong, and resilient,” Duckless said. “You're not defined by your by your loss, you are defined by everything you are doing to help others.”
Superintendent William Harbron emphasized the strength of the students' voices is powerful, and it's what can move the needle in addressing mental health.
“They have a passion for making a difference,” Harbron said. “They truly care about their community and their peers.”
This article originally appeared on Fosters Daily Democrat: Dover High School Class of 2022 seeks solutions after 3 suicides