Parent Of Teen Lost To Suicide Raising Awareness For Program Helping Students With Depression

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By NewsRadio 1080 KRLD

PLANO (1080 KRLD) - It's been almost one year since Melanie Uriegas lost her 15-year-old son to suicide. Now, she's using his story to spark change in schools around DFW. 

Uriegas says her son Jesse went through ups and downs just like any other teenager, but she never thought his mood swings were anything more than typical teen frustration. Until last February, when Jesse took his own life while at school at McMillen High. 

"When things would happen at school, he would open up to some of his friends," Uriegas said. "When he would come home, everything would seem totally normal. So I never knew anything was wrong."

Even though Uriegas didn't know what was on her son's mind, some of his friends say ... they did. 

"These kids that knew when my son was having a hard time-- and they carried that around with them. It's just another backpack of burden ...  because they don't know how to help their friends." 

Uriegas says this is a common problem. 

When young people are feeling stressed or going through tumultuous times, she says they're more likely to tell their friends about it than their parents. So she believes those friends should be taught how to help.

 This is why Uriegas says Hope Squads should be standard in schools. 

The Hope Squad program has been implemented in schools across the country. It takes a select group of well-liked students, hand picked by their peers, and teaches them how to recognize signs of depression. They're also trained to tell adults when they come into contact with students struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts.

"If these friends could help trusted adults and parents find out the way their child is feeling, then that's just a win," Uriegas said. "It's a just a win for everybody." 

Uriegas said she helped get the program in Prosper schools last year and it's seen a lot of success. She asked Plano --  the district her children attend --  to implement the program as well. 

"What makes our story a little different, is that my son took his life on campus," Uriegas said. "It made it easier to get [the district's> attention because the people that I met with were actually at the high school that day, offering their support to the administrators-- the people who had resuscitated our son. They tried, you know, they tried. And it was very emotional for these teachers and the nurse and the principal. It just hit home for them."

 The district is planning to launch Hope Squads on six Plano campuses this fall. At the end of this school year, students will elect their most trustworthy peers to be on the squad , those students will then go through training that could help save lives. 

Uriegas says ... it's a good start. 

"Is it foolproof? Absolutely not. Is it going to stop teen suicide? I mean ... nothing will stop it. But like one of the other parents I met said: It'll at least slow it down."