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South Albany High School uses new program to take on suicide prevention

Suicide prevention at South Albany High School. (SBG, AF)

ALBANY, Ore. – The subject of suicide is a touchy one, but South Albany High School students are stirring up the conversation.

Their guidance counselor brought a new suicide prevention program to the school.

Also, one of their seniors, Jennifer Hayden, knows first-hand how important it is to have, the sometimes uncomfortable, conversations.

She believes she saved a man's life thanks to a simple conversation.

It happened while she was on spring break in Chicago when she witnessed what she believed was a man contemplating suicide.

Hayden was in Indiana visiting a college that her friend attends.

She and her friend decided to take a break from college touring and spend a day in Chicago.

"'I’ve never seen the great lakes so let's go down and see the water,'” Hayden said she told her friend at the time

What she came across by the water was head turning.

“There was this man who was just like, he was holding his head under the water and he was just sobbing," said Hayden.

The girls continued to keep to themselves, but Hayden said she felt compelled by God to stay with the man, like she was there for a reason that day.

"He was not in the right state of mind. He wasn't going to be making very sound decisions and he was probably going to be taking his life," she said.

She called 9-1-1 and stayed with the man and talked to him.

"Life has more to offer, and it will get better. He just asked, 'You promise?'" said Hayden.

After their conversation, she said the man willingly went with first responders.

Right at Hayden's hometown high school in Albany, suicide prevention is being spread to her classmates through a new program called Sources of Strength.

The national program helps students before there's a problem.

“It's not an intervention; it's not finding people who are struggling; it's teaching people how to be well in the middle of life's ups and downs,” said Jill Baker, South Albany High School guidance counselor.

It's where students spread messages of hope, help and strength to other students.

"Being a teenager is really difficult and the truth is they listen to each other way more than they'll listen to adults,” said Baker.

Through the program, adult leaders work with the peers to spread positive messages.

Baker said there are about 30 students in the program.

Those involved are student leaders part of a variety of social groups.

Hayden said she's happy the program is starting lifesaving conversations.

"It is worth it to put yourself out there and try to help somebody. Even if you think you might embarrass yourself or you might be wrong in the situation. You might be right,” she said.

This is the first year South Albany High School is trying it out Sources of Strength.

They recently got a grant so that next year they can spread the program to all the high schools and middle schools in their school district.

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