BISMARCK - Fifteen North Dakota schools have the opportunity to join 50 others in the state in a suicide prevention program for middle school and high school students.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota’s Caring Foundation is offering  funding for the extra 15 schools and accepting applications.

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The state Department of Health program, called Sources of Strength, is being implemented in the 50 schools and many are already seeing positive results.

A recent survey of Sources of Strength students found that nearly half helped connect a struggling peer with a caring adult since starting the program.

“It is one of the first suicide prevention programs to use peer leaders to increase student resiliency to prevent suicide across the entire school,” said Alison Traynor, director of the program for the health department.

Caring Foundation Director Pam Gulleson said, “Schools are where students spend a majority of their day and is where they build close relationships and interact with peers. The goal is for students to learn valuable skills on how to better handle stress and address their feelings, enabling them to live healthier and full lives.”

The suicide rate in North Dakota between 1999 and 2016 is the highest in the country with a 57.6 percent increase, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  In 2016, 134 North Dakota residents died by suicide, a figure that constitutes a rate of nearly 20 deaths per 100,000,

Schools can apply by Dec. 1 to the foundation  at