AMERICAN FORK — Brigham Young University public relations students have gone back to Utah County high schools in an effort to change the conversation about teen mental health.
It's all in connection with a national program called the Campaign to Change Direction.
"Their goal is to promote positive mental health and to create a common dialogue about mental health and how we can address that problem," said BYU senior McKann Thomas.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness. One way to help is to recognize the five signs of emotional suffering: withdrawal, agitation, personality change, poor self-care and hopelessness.
To help spread the word, the BYU students teamed up with local HOPE squads, a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program that started in Utah County schools but is now growing nationally. HOPE stands for Hold On, Persuade, Empower.
American Fork High School senior Gaby Hainsworth is on the HOPE squad. She said, "I love it because it gives me an opportunity to focus on people and know how to help them."
"It's been really cool to see people who maybe you wouldn't necessarily ever talk to but come together and unite in this one purpose," said HOPE squad member Lindsey Hatch.
High School student bodies nominate their peers to become HOPE squad members. They act as the eyes and ears of the school, helping friends dealing with depression and hopelessness. They are not counselors, but they are trained to get students the help that they need.
HOPE squad member Stockton Manges said, "It's really cool to see the changes that we're making in the school."
The team of five BYU students are participating in a Public Relations Society of America's Bateman Case Study Competition. The students are given real-world clients to develop real-world solutions and campaigns.
The students spent last semester researching and figuring out the best way to deliver the message. "Teenagers are really passionate and they're really invested in the things that they enjoy and the things that are important to them and that they are really motivated by their peers," Thomas said.
The PR students decided social media provided the best way to start a conversation about mental health. They added Snapchat filters, an Instagram competition and giveaways to the campaign.
They also invited special guests to deliver messages at three Utah County high schools. The Utah Valley Greenmen group, former Olympian Kate Hansen and YouTube sensation Maddie Wilson addressed teens at Springville, Maple Mountain and American Fork high schools.
At each school, the HOPE squad members and the BYU students campaign to get students to know the five signs of emotional suffering. Since the campaign started, over 2,100 students have made the pledge by either signing or outlining their hands on a poster.