Social media campaign aims to prevent suicides

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A leading Indiana legislator wants teens to know they can get help when things look bleak.

State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, announced a new social media campaign Friday in the wake of recent suicides by high school and college students. He said the campaign, called "I Need Help," will try to deflect depressed high school and college students from a potentially fatal path into prevention programs.

"I am quite concerned at all the suicides that have happened in Indiana," Merritt said.

At least a half-dozen high school and college students in Indiana have killed themselves since the school year began in August, according to therapist Scott Watson, who founded the Heartland Intervention Center that combats drug and alcohol addiction. Most were high school students and about half lived in the Indianapolis area, he said.

"We live in a world where everyone's 'fine,' and the truth is behind that 'fine' there is pain," Watson said.

The awareness campaign will encourage teens with suicidal thoughts to call the 211 referral phone system so they can be directed to aid, push to make free or low-cost counseling more available at high schools and colleges. It also will encourage training for teachers, college residence hall and fraternity officials and student leaders to recognize the signs of suicide risk.

The key to the campaign, Merritt said, is to make young people realize there is still hope when things look hopeless.

"We have to take the stigma away from mental illness. We have to take the stigma away from depression," Merritt said. "It's now OK to talk about your problem."

Another key strategy will be to urge friends and family to monitor social networking sites for signs of depression or anxiety and posts that could indicate an intention to harm oneself.

"Live in your community with your eyes wide open," Watson said.

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