Recently, five individuals from Sheridan County, including myself, attended an amazing four-day training in Littleton, CO in order to learn the ins and outs of a program called Sources of Strength. Sources of Strength (SOS) is an evidence-based, upstream suicide prevention program that is so much more. The SOS model is one of help, hope & strength, instead of sadness, shock & trauma. The model does this upstream prevention by looking at what protective factors a young person, family, organization, and community already have and builds upon them, utilizing those assets as the foundation from which to grow.
What is upstream prevention and why is it important? Here is an example:
Imagine seeing a young person in the river, screaming and flailing as they continue to be pulled closer to the waterfall. If you throw them a life preserver and help them to shore, you have prevented them from going over the waterfall. In each day that follows, you see another youth in the water, do the same thing and continue to pull young people from the water. Suddenly you wonder, why are young people going into the water in the first place? You go upstream to see what is causing the incident to occur, intent on helping (so young people don’t even have the opportunity to fall in the river), not just throwing out life preservers and helping them once they are already in the water. Both methods are prevention, SOS is the model that looks upstream, to help youth before they fall in the river.
SOS is a strength model not a deficit model. SOS examines eight different areas of support and asks, which of these do I currently have, and which area could I work on growing? These areas of strength are: Family Support, Positive Friends, Mentors, Healthy Activities, Generosity, Spirituality, Medical Access & Mental Health.
One reason I love the SOS model is that it creates a growth mindset. Which of these areas do I currently have, and which area of the wheel could I work harder to develop? Most of us will not have all these strengths, but to be healthy and balanced we need more than one area. The areas can be adapted or look different for each of us. Family support does not just mean your family of origin, but could be your chosen family, made up of individuals who love and support us.
Five years ago, when I was introduced to this model, the trainer asked those of us in the session to go home and ask our own children who were their sources of strength? At dinner I asked our children and our two teenagers both said someone other than my husband or myself. At first, I was a little hurt, thinking about how much we have invested in growing them to be valuable members of society, but as I have grown in my own wisdom, I have come to realize that I am SO VERY THANKFUL that my children can recognize other individuals in their lives who give them support and strength. My goal of implementing SOS throughout Sheridan County is that ALL our youth find that person(s), and other strengths in their lives.