A unique program at an Edmonton high school is training students to watch for signs of crisis in fellow students.

Students at Centre High downtown are being taught how to recognize when friends under pressure from school work, family breakdowns or anxiety are reaching their breaking point.

"We're saving lives at this school," said Scott Magee, the school's social work consultant.

About 20 students each year think about suicide, but with teachers and students trained to look for signs, those in crisis get immediate help, he said.

"That's why it's really important that we can handle things when they're first happening — when they're young — because the more entrenched mental health goes on, the harder it is to solve," Magee said.

The support team is a major help to the approximately 2,400 students at Centre High, said Kajal Sharma, one of the 50 students on the support mental health committee.

"Students usually talk a whole lot more to their peers," she said. "As a student you work with a whole lot more people, interacting with sports teams and you're able to see more things.

"As a teacher, you usually have a certain amount of students you get to see in a day."​

Another student on the committee said young people will often go to their peers first before they go to a teacher or a parent.

"They'll talk to their friends," said Courtney Kresier.  

  

With files from CBC's Gareth Hampshire