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KINGSTON (WATE) - A group of students at Roane County High School has a mission to make a difference in their own community with teen suicide prevention.
The students recently won a state competition for their work, and now they're competing nationally.
Saving somebody's life is the ultimate goal for 16-year-old junior Haley Gilmore and three classmates who began a school project in their health science careers class.
They hoped to learn more about teen suicide and educate others. But they had no idea how deeply it would touch them all. "It made me really emotional to know," Gilmore said.
First a survey revealed that nearly half of students at Roane County High knew someone who had thought about or attempted suicide.
"As we got into it and saw that it really did affect us personally and in our community, it really became personal for all of us," said 15-year-old sophomore Josh Griffith.
They put up posters at school, flyers around town, took their message to social media and made a video highlighting all the staggering statistics on kids and suicide.
Then the topic hit close to home. A classmate was hospitalized after a suicide attempt, leaving them all shaken. "When we found out, we were so surprised, and we just wanted to help him," Gilmore said.
"He just seems like so to himself and we just want to feel like, we just want to make him feel like he's wanted," Gilmore explained.
Griffith says what he learned during the group's research helped him reach out to a friend in need.
"I was on Facebook one night, and this girl like wrote on somebody's wall telling her how depressed she was and stuff. So I got on there and like private messaged her and talked to her that night and just tried to help her through the night," he said. "That's when it really became personal for me."
Griffith was shocked to learn that even elementary school kids have committed suicide. "The youngest age was four, and he wrote a suicide note in crayon. It just sends cold chills down my back," he said. "It was horrible."
Health science education teacher Carol Smith noticed how the project affected the group. "I could tell a change in each one of them. They seemed to become more passionate about what they were doing."
Now they want everyone to know some of the reasons kids take their own lives. "Bad home life, depression, being bullied at school, feeling like you're not worthy of anything," Griffith listed.
They also learned warning signs including, "Their eating habits changed, lack of interaction with friends. They complained of boredom more than they usually did, not responding to praise as they usually would and sleeping more," Griffith said.
The entire class is learning that there's power in numbers, a little sensitivity goes a long way and they should act on any suspicion that someone is suicidal.
"Go get help," Gilmore urged. "Report it immediately to an appropriate advisor so that they can help the student."
"I mean, would you rather your friend be mad at you or dead?" Griffith added.
The health science occupation students have been asked to share their project during a county wide conference to help with professional development for teachers.
The national competition they're attending begins in June in Orlando.
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