Students from across the state gathered on Wednesday at Mountain View High School to talk about mental health and suicide prevention and learn from one another.

These students are members of Hope Squad, a Utah-based program that works to help students develop tools to build their own mental health and bring hope to others. The program has spread to 41 states and over 1,600 schools throughout the United States and Canada.

Alivia Walker, a Hope Squad leader, said suicide, anxiety and depression are heavy topics, and the Hope Squad helps her and other students talk about and work through their thoughts and emotions.

"When we talk about them together, it becomes that safe space where we can be open and move better," Walker said.

Students who are in junior high and high school were invited to this conference and another at Davis High School on Thursday, with about 500 students from 20 schools attending each day. There are over 7,200 Hope Squad members in Utah schools.

Hope Squad members in 4th, 5th and 6th grades can attend similar conferences on Feb. 2 and 3.

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The conference is designed with presentations and discussions led by peers. Dr. Greg Hudnall, who founded Hope Squad, is the keynote speaker.

Another student and Hope Squad leader, Spencer Johansen, said he has learned meditation can help calm his mind.

"It just puts you in the present moment, so you're not worried about what's in front of you or what's behind you, you're just thinking about right then," he said.

Parents and students can go to the Hope Squad website to learn about joining or starting a squad at their school.

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