Gina Godbehere, a prosecutor with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office knows the importance of being proactive when it comes to youth suicide.
“It’s the goal of going in early and trying to deal with the trauma and substance abuse and mental health at the onset when it very first starts and get the students the help that they need,” Godbehere said.
Godbehere and Lily DeBlieux, Goodyear residents, co-founded Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life, a program with conferences educating the public about the signs of suicide and to help those who are struggling with mental health issues. Recently, the program was recognized for educating, empowering and saving lives of Arizona youth.
The program started after a tragedy struck a West Valley school when Godbehere and DeBlieux realized there is a social problem and it needs attention.
“We noticed this tragedy was similar to other tragedies that have occurred across Arizona and across the country where there are often times missed warning signs,” Godbehere said.
(Godbehere chose not to share the name of the school, saying it could be insensitive to the families involved.)
Together, DeBlieux and Godbehere managed to propel the program, garnering local and state recognition.
WESTMARC recently presented the program the Best of the West Award for Quality of Life in Education. In addition, DeBlieux, who is the superintendent of the Pendergast School District, was given the Inspired Adult Leader Award by the Governor’s Office of Volunteerism.
DeBlieux and Godbehere prefer to focus on young people who need help through the programs’ conferences.
“Our focus was to make sure every student, teacher and parent understood the universal warning signs that a child could be in crisis.”
The conference includes guest speakers and activities aimed at helping participants embrace its message. The conference’s goal is to empower youth and teach them the skills to recognize and deal with suicidal thoughts. It even puts youth in leadership positions to further empower them.
In addition, the program also helps educators implement certain skills and encourage them to spread the program in their own institutions and communities.
“We’ve grown from 28 schools our first year to 156 schools last year,” Godbehere said. “After they go back, they’re supposed to implement the program and they can do it in any way they want,” Godbehere said. “They get to choose how they want to be creative to spread the word, and we try to connect them to the resources to get them the help that they need.”
Helping young students who are struggling with mental health issues is not without its challenges.
A common problem it encounters is people don’t know the signs of a troubled person and if they do, they don’t know how to help.
“Many people don’t know the warning signs, or they don’t have the skills on how to deal with them,” DeBlieux said. “They really don’t know sometimes what to even say to a fellow student who is being bullied or says they’re attempting suicide.”
Many younger students who do recognize that a person may need help are often scared to stand up and speak up. They can feel as though they are betraying a person’s trust or are afraid of them responding in a negative way.
“One of the problems is we also tell people to mind your own business and not to be a tattletale, and there’s the saying ‘snitches get stitches’,” Godbehere said. “So can we have a conference where we can tell them that you’re not being a tattletale if a friend is in danger and you speak up for the right reasons and you get them help.”
DeBlieux said students go through many pressures the previous generations didn’t. There are many academic and social expectations that can hinder their mental well-being, and that is why she believes proactive programs like this are necessary.
“It’s something that is very much needed,” DeBlieux said. “There’s so much going on with students nowadays, so we started this movement and we’re in our fourth year and it’s just blossoming all over the place because of the need.”
Godbehere wants students to know they don’t always have to be happy and when they do feel depressed, they should seek help. She wants them to know they don’t have to face their problems on their own and there are resources to help them.
“It’s OK to not be OK, so if you are struggling or you’re depressed, there are other kids out there that are just like you and it’s OK to ask for help,” Godbehere said. “We try to empower our youth to ask for help.”
For her, the best part of the conference is watching its message break through the walls of the youth and begin to sink in. She enjoys when a student who needed help or knows someone who does, takes the skills they learned to help others.
“The favorite aspect of the conference is seeing the kids embrace the message and wanting to be leaders in the community and wanting to help their classmates,” Godbehere said. “Just the love that’s spread in this type of conference and you could just be in the room and feel it and see now there’s an appreciation for the fact words can harm somebody.”
“Our kids are worth every second we spend on helping them become the beautiful human beings they are, and they are becoming,” DeBlieux. “Invest in our kids.
For more information, visit speakstandsave.com.