Desert Edge football

Left, Desert Edge High School junior Deshawn Warner is among 20 football players and one cheerleader pushing to prevent teen suicide. Right, Kaleb Jackson-Carter, a senior at Desert Edge High School, is using his visibility as a football player to help prevent teen suicide. (Teen Lifeline/Submitted)

Desert Edge High School senior Kaleb Jackson-Carter and junior Deshawn Warner are using their visibility as football players on campus and their following on social media to help save teen lives during Teen Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September. 

The pair are part of a group of 20 high-profile football players and one cheerleader representing 18 Arizona high schools in the Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma areas calling attention to the issue of preventing teen suicide. Players were nominated to participate in the program by their coaches.

Jackson-Carter and Warner will be featured in a series of professionally produced video public service announcements (PSAs) organized by Teen Lifeline and the Grand Canyon State Gridiron Club (GCSGC). 

“Today more than ever, teens are looking for a connection,” said Michelle Moorhead, executive director of Teen Lifeline. “That’s why this campaign is so important, the peer-to-peer message that what they may be feeling is normal, that there is always hope and that help is available whenever they need it.”

The message in the PSAs is powerful because the players are talking to students and teens just like themselves, according to Moorhead. 

“I have friends who suffer from depression, and it makes my day when I can change their perspective on life,” said Warner, who plays defensive end for the Scorpions. “I wanted to participate in the PSAs because I know how much they can change somebody’s life, and that means a lot to me.” 

Warner and Jackson-Carter, like many of the players participating in the PSA campaign, said they have friends who have struggled with thoughts of suicide.

“Mental health is a serious matter, and it’s not talked about enough,” said Jackson-Carter, who plays offensive guard for the Desert Edge Scorpions. “There are tons of kids I know who struggle with their mental health and feel as if they have no one to turn to. I want them to know they’re not alone and it will get better. Don’t lose hope.” 

The statewide PSA campaign is designed to provide messages of hope to peers who may be struggling with depression, anxiety or thoughts of suicide. The players’ personal messages let their classmates know they are not alone and encourage troubled teens to seek help if they feel depressed or suicidal.

The PSAs will be seen on the players’, teams’ and schools’ social media channels and will be broadcast during morning announcements on the high school campuses when possible. 

This is the fourth year Teen Lifeline and the Grand Canyon State Gridiron Club have teamed up to produce a public service campaign. 

Every day, teens across the state reach out to Teen Lifeline for help. The 24/7/365 crisis hotline is staffed by teen peer counselors from 3 to 9 p.m. every day, providing Arizona’s youth with the opportunity to talk to someone their own age about the issues they are experiencing. Professional counselors answer the phone lines at all other times. 

The Teen Lifeline crisis hotline received more than 22,000 calls and 20,000 text messages from troubled youths throughout Arizona in 2021. That’s a nearly 50% increase compared to 2019. Most of those calls and texts came from Arizona adolescents ages 10 to 19. 

In addition to supporting the PSA campaigns at their schools, the entire football teams of the participating players will recognize Teen Suicide Prevention Awareness Month at select games throughout September, with Teen Lifeline stickers on their helmets. 

Teen Lifeline works closely with schools throughout Arizona to provide suicide prevention services. Staff from the nonprofit organization will provide suicide prevention programming to students in 44 schools during the month of September alone. 

During the 2022-23 school year, more than 430 Arizona middle schools and high schools, with a combined enrollment of more than 500,000 students, will print the Teen Lifeline phone number on the back of their student IDs. 

Teens who are struggling to feel hope in their lives are encouraged to call Teen Lifeline any day or time at 602-248-TEEN (8336) or 1-800-248-TEEN. Teens can also text the hotline at 602-248-8336 between noon and 9 p.m. weekdays and 3 to 9 p.m. weekends.