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John Trautwein and his wife Susie founded the Will to Live Foundation after losing their 15-year-old son, Will, to suicide. The nonprofit is now thriving and helping to not only heal, but to empower a family and an Atlanta-area community deeply affected by Will’s death. We interviewed John to learn more about Will to Live’s mission and how school coaches and staff members can help increase school connectedness and identify students struggling with mental illness.

Screening for Mental Health is proud to feature the Will to Live Foundation as the Supporter Spotlight for this e-newsletter edition. John Trautwein and his wife Susie founded the Will to Live Foundation after losing their 15-year-old son, Will, to suicide. The nonprofit is now thriving and helping to not only heal, but to empower a family and an Atlanta-area community deeply affected by Will’s death.

We interviewed John to learn more about Will to Live’s mission and how school coaches and staff members can help increase school connectedness and identify students struggling with mental illness.

1. What part can coaches and other school staff play in increasing school connectedness for students?

JT: Coaches can play a major positive role in the overall educational experience for our students. In today’s extremely competitive and negative world, coaches have our kids full attention during what we call happy time for our students. Sports are played and playing is fun, it’s as simple as that. Yes, they are competitive and yes they can be intense and pressure packed, but they are, and always have been, games!  With the academic and social pressures that surround our kids 24/7 today, sports and other extra-curricular activities are an excellent opportunity for positive release. They are also an excellent opportunity for the development of friends and “Life Teammates.” Being on a team teaches our students the importance of sharing all aspects of life, good and bad, with each other. A great coach helps foster this concept so that our kids do find love and hope in their teammates: their friends.

2. What advantages do coaches have for spotting worrisome behavior in students?

JT: Coaches spend a lot of time with their players. The time they spend is positive and a great release from the daily pressures of academic life. They get to see their players in a much more personal setting than teachers do in a classroom, thus they have an excellent window into the attitude of their players.

3. How can staff work together to provide a unified voice of support for student mental health?

JT: By continually pursuing the concept of teamwork and emphasizing that we are in this  together. Continually talking to the students about how difficult it is to be a teen today and acknowledging to the kids that it is not easy, but it’s possible to make it. Together they can get through the difficult times that teen life throws at them.

4. How important is love and support from a friend? Why do you think this relationship can be so impactful?

JT: The number one source of true hope and love for a teenager can be found in the eyes of a friend.  It’s as simple as that. Friends truly understand each other because they are actually experiencing life together. Thus a compliment from a friend can mean so much more than a compliment from a parent or teacher or a coach. In the same way, a criticism from a friend can be that much more devastating.

Everyone agrees that it is easier to speak to a friend, so let’s encourage our students and teach them to listen and to A.C.T!

5. How can staff give students a voice in a large school setting and ensure that at-risk youth don’t get overlooked?

JT: By creating clubs or groups that promote the Life Teammate concept of being there for your friends and recognizing that life is very hard today. Illnesses like depression and other anxieties are very common and treatable and curable and can affect anyone, The more we all talk about it, the more comfortable we will be.

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