CHANDLER — Some Chandler students are taking matters into their own hands after several students died by suicide late last school year.
Riana Alexander and her friends created the group Arizona Students for Mental Health, which officially became a nonprofit in early August. She says the group is dedicated to improving mental health resources in schools and in the city.
“We could see our peers and ourselves struggling. We wanted to do something about it because it seemed like nobody else was,” Alexander told ABC15 about starting the nonprofit.
Alexander herself struggled with mental health, even having to unenroll in public school for a semester for her mental health. She wants others to know there is help.
They want to normalize using the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 988, and make it easier for other students to access resources and have it become a part of everyday life.
She believes her nonprofit is different than others that help with mental health resources because it’s student led.
“We have just a different point of view than adults because we’re the ones experiencing it. When you try to solve teen mental health, there’s nobody better to solve it than teens,” she said.
While they know they need adults to help them, she says it is easier to talk to other students.
“I think it’s just because students get it more than adults do,” she said. “Personally, when I try to talk to adults, it’s more like they want to fix it. And sometimes we just need to vent. We just need to talk about what’s going on, and we just need to get what we’re feeling out there and adults always try to jump in and fix it.”
Kailani Higgins, a sophomore who is also part of the group, says she joined the nonprofit because she felt motivated to help others who struggle with their mental health. She also went through a mental health crisis herself and ended up needing help.
“I think it's important for students to be able to voice our own needs and kind of share that with people from our own point of view, rather than kind of having someone say it for us or kind of assume what we want to say,” she said.
During National Suicide Prevention Week, the group wrote messages of encouragement on the sidewalk with chalk, in addition to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline number. They also held a candlelight vigil at the end of the week to remember the lives lost by suicide.
While juggling schoolwork and launching the nonprofit, Alexander hopes her group’s hard work will save lives.
“It's something worth working for, 100%. The students’ lives that were lost, if somebody would've done something earlier, they might still be here,” she said.
The Chandler Unified School District says it is not affiliated with the nonprofit. A spokesperson for the school district says it has added several new positions this school year to help increase access to mental health needs. The district has added lifeline numbers on to students’ ID’s and is working to add them on to staff ID’s. District leaders are also implementing “teen mental health first aid” or kids ages 15 and up with parent approval.
If you are feeling suicidal or in need of help, you are not alone. Call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.