It’s Okay Not to be Okay: New Hope Squad Organization Dedicated to Ending Mental Health Stigma

Ending the Stigma: Hope Squad is a new organization at North Atlanta that is dedicated to ending the detrimental stigma surrounding mental health. Through peer-to-peer suicide prevention practices, students are able to create an open line of communication with their peers and feel they are not alone.

The stigma surrounding mental health is a prominent issue plaguing today’s society, often causing people to struggle in silence. It is extremely important for people to recognize that it is “okay not to be okay” and understand they can reach out for help. A new organization at North Atlanta called Hope Squad enforces this idea and is working to break down the detrimental stigma against mental illness and provide students with easier access to mental health support. This organization is led by a group of seniors including Founder and President Tyler Hankin, Vice President Hayden Perciful, Secretary Avi Hunter, and Treasurer Jack Bynum. 

This amazing senior cohort is establishing the very first Hope Squad in the state of Georgia. The premise of this organization is incredibly close to the hearts of many North Atlanta students. Much of their work is attributed to a close friend who lost his life to suicide in October of last year. “We made it our personal mission to prevent any person, community, or family from enduring such a horrible tragedy like his,” said Hankin. “There is no better way to honor his memory than by showing compassion, understanding, and support to others who may be in a similar position.”

Essentially, Hope Squad is a national peer-to-peer based suicide prevention organization that aims to provide an open line of communication without judgment. The process works by allowing students to elect their peers as members based on their responsibility and character. Hope Squad members are overseen by advisors consisting of North Atlanta’s faculty, who receive thorough suicide prevention training from professionals. Hope Squad advisors then use what they learn to train the elected students. “Our overall goal with Hope Squad is to ameliorate the stigma around mental health, and normalize the idea of ‘not being okay,’” said Hankin. “I think that especially in times like these when everything seems to be uncertain, an organization like Hope Squad is vital to our NAHS community.”

In researching ways they could help their community, this group of senior leaders found that approachability is one of the biggest obstacles in treating teen mental health. In order to turn their idea of starting Hope Squad to fruition, they reached out to and met weekly with NAHS Social Worker Gayle Roque, Assistant Principal Jill Stewart, and Counselor Shellie Marino. The group also reached out to Link Counseling Center who gave their full support to the group’s endeavors. The student leaders recently surpassed their goal of recruiting 12 advisors and are proud to announce that 14 faculty members will soon receive professional Hope Squad training. “We really want to end the stigma against mental health in our community, and our amazing faculty advisors are essential in doing so,” said Hunter. “We want everyone to know that to suffer is not to be weak and that there are always people that want to help.”

Hope Squad is an amazing organization that will provide Dubs with mental health support for many years to come. Thanks to the generosity of the PTSA Foundation, the group has the funds to establish this organization in our community. Due to efforts like Hope Squad, the North Atlanta community is one step closer to breaking down the detrimental stigma against mental health.