Ashlen Wright, 18, of West Fargo, N.D., a senior at Sheyenne High School, advocates for teen mental health and suicide prevention by raising money and awareness in her community and by working to connect at-risk teens to people who can help them. When Ashlen was a sophomore, she made the difficult decision to change schools. It was a tough transition, she said, but her “saving grace” was a boy named Justin, a star student, athlete and musician who took her under his wing and became one of her closest friends. A few months later, two hours after speaking with Ashlen, Justin took his own life. “At first I was numb. The next wave that hit me was pure grief,” said Ashlen. “Grief not only that Justin was gone, but that I had done nothing to stop it.”
Three weeks after her friend’s death, Ashlen joined the student board of Imagine Thriving, a regional nonprofit that promotes mental health education for young adults, provides support for those struggling emotionally, and supports a full-time mental wellness facilitator in every school district in the region to help identify those at risk. Ashlen also serves as the student representative to the adult board of directors, and helps with long-term planning for the organization. After undergoing training, she began fundraising for the organization and speaking to student groups about the growing problem of depression and suicide for young people. She also founded a mental health club at school, and organized her school’s participation in an “Out of Darkness Walk” to raise money for suicide prevention. Since her friend’s death, Ashlen has spoken to hundreds of teens in schools, church groups and youth organizations, and participated in events that have raised more than $320,000 to help promote mental health and prevent suicide.