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Watertown High junior starts depression peer support club

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Watertown High School junior Dani L. Fleming wants her fellow students to stay strong.

The junior started the Stay Strong Club, a peer support group for students with suicidal thoughts and depression, in response to personal incidents and former WHS student Erin K. Foley’s suicide in May.

Miss Foley’s death in her senior year sparked an outpouring of support and questions about depression. Miss Fleming’s brother Patrick M. Fleming organized a rally against bullying outside the high school and Case Middle School, asking all those who attended to write “love” on their arms.

Miss Fleming had been trying to start the club since she was in the seventh grade at Case.

“Obviously, what happened when Erin Foley died, it was kind of the breaking point,” said her mother, Bobbi Fleming. “Erin’s parents and the rest of her family are 100 percent on board.”

Miss Fleming’s experience with others taking their life started much earlier, however.

“I had two family members commit suicide before I was born,” she said.

She also had friends who would use self-injury as a release from depression.

“The whole thing is to take the stigma off of depression and suicide,” Miss Fleming said. “Erin felt alone and didn’t have anyone to talk to.”

In addition to offering peer support, the club will be involved at community events and fundraisers to raise awareness of depression and suicide.

Members plan to hold a booth when To Write Love on Her Arms, a nonprofit movement to provide hope for people dealing with suicide, self-injury, addiction and depression, visits Jefferson Community College on Thursday, Oct. 18.

Miss Fleming is hoping the club will trigger a “chain reaction of support” in the community.

She said the group, which had 11 attendees at its last meeting, already had success with one student who was battling depression.

“It’s a place to lean on when they need it,” she said.

The club plans to meet Tuesdays. Those who are interested in joining can contact Miss Fleming or adviser and WHS math teacher Laura Herne.

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