When it comes to the mental health and well-being of youth, many community partners play an important role. In other words, it takes a village.

A unique collaboration between several partners—Fairview Community Health and the Chisago Lakes, Forest Lake Area and North Branch Area school districts and public charter school North Lakes Academy—is working to prevent youth suicide, the nation’s third leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24.

Identifying the need

While Fairview Lakes has a long history of community mental health work, the need for additional youth mental health support was reinforced by the 2012 Community Health Needs Assessment.

At the time in the Fairview Lakes service area, mood disorders and depression ranked among the top five of reasons for hospitalization for children ages 18 and under. Suicide was the sixth leading cause of death for youth in the area as well.

Community health staff were supporting several mental health initiatives, but they began to think about how they could do even more.

“We were already working with students and school districts but in a much more fragmented way—primarily by educating self-selected students interested in learning more,” says Kathy Bystrom, North Region manager of Community Health.

“We needed a coordinated, evidence-based approach that would strengthen the school district’s response while simultaneously reaching the entire student body so they, too, would be equipped with the knowledge and skills to effectively respond.”

Introducing a lifeline

With the help of a Fairview Foundation Grant, Community Health introduced the schools to Lifelines—a comprehensive youth suicide prevention program.

The curriculum empowers students to more readily identify suicidal tendencies in themselves or their peers and teaches them how to seek immediate help.

“We began by having Maureen Underwood, Lifelines program co-founder, brought in to educate school leaders on the Lifelines curriculum,” says Kathy. The 2013 program reached staff in four area schools, all of whom brought their learnings back to the classroom to pass onto their students.

“It really had a rippling effect through our student body,” says Linda Madsen, PhD, Forest Lake Area Schools superintendent. “Our students became mental health ambassadors, both for themselves and for one another.”

Expanding the reach

Thanks to the program’s success, Lifelines is now embedded in the area’s health curriculum and delivered to every student in participating schools.

Fairview Community Health continues to offer program support, providing technical assistance, parent education, ongoing staff training and more and is looking to expand the initiative to include even more north region schools in 2015.

“We’re excited to reach even more students in future years,” says Kathy. “The Lifelines model is really a great example of how we can partner with our community to improve the health of those we serve in a unique ways.”