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GVSU student shares message of hope in effort to save lives

A local college sophomore saved lives. Grand Valley State University sophomore Riley Juntti traveled the country sharing a message of hope. (WWMT/FILE)

A local college sophomore saved lives. Grand Valley State University sophomore Riley Juntti traveled the country sharing a message of hope.

"I grew up in Oxford, Michigan which is a community that experienced multiple suicides within four years, so our community was very affected my mental illness and suicide. Throughout high school, I started this relationship with an older boy... the relationship was great for the first year but the second year it became very violent, degrading. I was scared for my own safety sometimes. Once I finally got out of that relationship after two years I kind of spiraled down hill into this downfall of depression and anxiety. It was hard for me to go to school and create connections with people," Juntti said.

The dean of students at her high school helped her turn a corner with a counter campaign to the Netflix show, "13 Reasons Why." Juntti volunteered to tell her story of why not.

"Every day for 13 days one student would come over the loud speaker to 1,800 people and share their story of emotional vulnerability, of a time they didn't feel good enough. Instead of blaming someone else for their pain like the show did we would thank someone who brought us out of a dark time of our life," she said.

Juntti thanked a girl in her biology class.

"We weren't even close friends but every single day she would say hi to me, ask me how my day ways, ask me questions about my life," Juntti said.

Once she got to college, something even bigger happened.

"I was sitting in class at Grand Valley and I got a tweet from Netflix saying they wanted to talk to me. Then the next week they flew me and my whole family out to California to film my documentary. 15 minutes after my story aired a girl who'd been abused since elementary school came down to the office to get help. From that moment forward, I'm like if I touch absolutely no one else it's still worth it. The fact I'm still touching people a year and a half later is why I continue to wake up every morning with this urgency to talk about suicide prevention. I don't view what I do as heroic. I view what as I do as something I was put on this Earth to do and it's something I think basic kindness and compassion and empathy is what I do within my job. It's not hard it's something we can all obtain," she said.

Juntti is studying psychology at GVSU while working full time sharing her story and encouraging others to do the same in an effort to show those in need why not to take their life.

For more information on Riley Juntti's "13 Reasons Why NOT" campaign, click here.

Follow Callie Rainey on Facebook and Twitter.

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