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For many parents, the back to school season comes with a mix of emotions, from excitement that their child is advancing to the next level of learning, to fears and worries that the myriad pressures will become too difficult for their child to manage. As parents, we want our children to know we are always there for them with understanding and support in their time of need. Unfortunately, we can’t be with them 100 percent of the time. And as children age, they tend to become more independent and don’t always share their deeper feelings and concerns with us.

Luckily, the UF Health PALS THRIVE program provides extra support to students in eight Alachua County schools at no cost. The program has existed since 2000. PALS stands for Partners in Adolescent Lifestyle Support. THRIVE was later added to include the words: Talk, Heal, Reach out, Include, Validate and Encourage. These words are at the heart of our program. We provide free mental health counseling services to students referred to us by school staff, parents and student self-referral.

PALS THRIVE services are facilitated by graduate- or doctoral-level University of Florida students from master’s and doctoral programs in psychology, mental health, marriage and family, and social work. These interns are placed in our eight schools to conduct individual counseling and group therapy and participate in schoolwide clubs and campaigns under the supervision of licensed professionals.

“The PALS program presented me a unique opportunity to reach students as an advocate in both academic and psycho-emotional ways,” said Jessica Turner, a PALS THRIVE counseling intern.

This program is designed to address issues such as bullying, depression, anxiety, thoughts of self-harm, suicidal ideation, emotional self-regulation, self-esteem, stress management, coping skills, family conflict, peer conflict, prosocial skills and grief.

PALS THRIVE also enhances student leadership skills in the community through leadership clubs within the schools. The PALS THRIVE program includes a leadership council, which consists of two student leaders from each school who come together and discuss issues at their schools, work on projects that benefit the students and the school as a whole and create outreach opportunities to help support the community.

PALS THRIVE is currently serving students at these schools: Gainesville High School, F.W. Buchholz High School, Eastside High School, Professional Academies Magnet at Loften High School, Saint Francis Catholic Academy, Kanapaha Middle School, Fort Clarke Middle School and A. Quinn Jones Center.

PALS THRIVE services are facilitated by graduate- or doctoral-level University of Florida students from master’s and doctoral programs in psychology, mental health, marriage and family, and social work.

Orlando Merced-O’Neill, a Buchholz High School student and PALS THRIVE Leadership Council member, said, “I think PALS is a great organization that cares about bettering communities and helping people in any walk of life find happiness.”

Although the PALS THRIVE program has evolved to reach students with a variety of needs, we would like to provide additional support in the area of suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports in 2016, suicide was the second-leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34. Overall, suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people.

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If you are concerned your child may be experiencing possible symptoms of depression or is having suicidal thoughts, please review the following warning signs below from

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or
    having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or reckless
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

Always take statements about a child wanting to kill themselves seriously, as it may be a cry for help. Most importantly, talk to your child and let them know you are there for them. Make sure they have other social supports in place and that they are talking to someone, even if it is not yourself. If you are concerned your child may be in danger, call 911 or call the Alachua County Crisis Center at 352-264-6789. You can also text the Crisis Text Line (Text HOME to 741741) from anywhere in the U.S. to speak with a trained crisis counselor.

If you are interested in arranging services for your child through the PALS THRIVE program, talk to your school counselor. You can also visit our website and click on the “Parents and Students” tab.

Our goal is to continue providing services within the schools through fundraising and donations from our community. We hope that this new school year with your children will be an exciting and fulfilling one.

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