ZEALAND – A collaborative program focusing on youth suicide prevention has been recognized with a state award.
Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital’s School Blue Envelope program in collaboration with the Spectrum Health Medical Group, the Ottawa County Suicide Coalition and several local schools received a 2021 Ludwig Community Benefit Award from the Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA).
“We are very honored,” said Jody Sprague, manager of the School Blue Envelope suicide prevention program. “We’re just getting very high reviews from schools saying it’s kind of the missing piece they needed.
“We start from the basic premise that suicide is everyone’s responsibility. We don’t just send them to an office to speak with a mental health specialist. We train everyone in the school environment. It gives them a common language.
Zeeland Community Hospital was one of three statewide Ludwig Prize winners and received a $ 5,000 grant with the prize to help continue the program. Sprague said the grant will be used to help expand the program.
This year, 14 middle and high schools in Ottawa, Allegan and Kent counties participated in the program. 20 to 24 more schools are expected to join next year, Sprague said.
The School Blue Envelope program involves training school employees in specific steps to respond to students or colleagues expressing suicidal thoughts.
Each participating school tracks “Blue Envelope Events,” defined as opportunities to have a discussion with a student expressing suicidal thoughts and pairing them with the appropriate help.
From its launch as a pilot program in 2019 until the end of the 2020-21 school year, there have been 510 Blue Envelope events, each representing a potential life saved through early intervention.
“It sounds like a lot because I think the general public tends to think that… it’s something very rare,” Sprague said of the number of interventions. “But in fact, thoughts of suicide, especially in recent years, have increased dramatically.”
Representatives from local school districts say the program has had a positive impact on their students and staff.
“Implementing the Spectrum Health Blue Envelope process in our schools has saved the lives of staff and students through training, awareness and effective response,” said Jessica Knoth, Principal of Zeeland East High School.
“By learning to identify people at risk of suicide – and put them in touch with care – our staff feel more prepared and more confident to tackle this difficult subject when they see the warning signs,” a said Karen Legg, Holland College counselor.
Ultimately, Spectrum Health hopes to expand the program to include at least every middle and high school in the 16-county area served by the health system. Sprague said there was interest in joining the program statewide.
Sprague added that it is important to be able to provide the training for free to schools. A golf outing in support of the program will take place on July 27. For more information, visit give.spectrumhealth.org/ZeelandGolfRegistration.