Ironwood High School wide receiver Jayden Sullivan has talked his friends through the hard times.
“I just want to help people,” said Sullivan, a sophomore.
Sullivan is one of 15 high school football players from 12 schools who are starring in a series of public service announcements during September, Teen Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, filmed with Teen Lifeline and the Grand Canyon State Gridiron Club.
The PSAs are designed to provide a unified message to teens who may be struggling with depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide.
Teen Lifeline is a Phoenix-based nonprofit with a focus on giving teens a safe space to talk about their depression and anxiety. Lifeline Clinical Director Nikki Kontz hopes these videos will have a significant impact on the students who watch them.
“Our high school football players are seen as the heroes or seen as the people that bad things don’t happen to,” Kontz said. “The fact is they’re struggling with the same things that every other kid is, and this is a way for them to bring awareness to everyone.”
Teen Lifeline received nearly 35,000 calls and texts to its suicide prevention hotline in 2020, with the majority coming from Arizona adolescents ages 10 to 19.
“Collaborations with organizations like Grand Canyon State Gridiron Club and high school athletes are critical in spreading the message that there is hope and help available to teens who need it,” said Michelle Moorhead, Teen Lifeline executive director, in a statement.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the 30-year-old Teen Lifeline has received the most calls and texts from teens.
“We can see it (awareness) even on the national and international stage, the things that have occurred in these last four months with Olympians like Simone Biles talking about the importance of mental health,” Kontz said.
Participating players will be recognized during their games in September. Members of the cheer team and spirit squads will wear custom Lifeline ribbons in their hair, and coaches will sport green suicide prevention shirts.
“It has been an amazing partnership every year. To see the numbers that we’re getting on social media and how many people it’s reaching within each of the schools has been something special,” Kontz said.
The 263 Arizona middle and high schools have printed the Teen Lifeline phone number on the back of their student IDs. For more information, visit TeenLifeline.org. For help, call or text Teen Lifeline at 602-248-TEEN (8336) or 1-800-248-TEEN.
Sullivan became involved in Teen Lifeline a few months ago when the nonprofit reached out to him.
“A couple of my friends have come to me, and I talked them through it,” he said. “They could trust me, and they needed me at that point in their life. They could trust me as a true friend.”
Sullivan said Teen Lifeline gives him the experience and guidance that he’ll need to pursue a career in the mental health field. Teen Lifeline walks students through the proper technique to talk to people with suicidal thoughts.
“They have people there to help you walk through everything and learn what you need to do to help people,” he said.
Once football season ends, Sullivan will spend more time answering phone calls from struggling teens. He also intends to stay in the program throughout high school.
Ultimately, he has a general message to anyone who is going through a rough patch.
“Never give up. Pursue your dreams. There are always people out there who can help you and walk you through everything. So just never give up.”