STRATFORD — By all accounts, Abby Anderson was a beautiful, kind, smart varsity cheerleader with a seemingly perfect life. Yet at age 15, she died by suicide on the last day of her sophomore year at Trumbull High School.

Abby had struggled with clinical depression and was being treated with therapy and medication, yet her facade was so good that even her parents were floored by what happened.

Five years later, her mother, Gillian Anderson, has launched a unique peer-to-peer program, “My Friend Abby,” that will provide grants to young people to come up with creative programs to address mental health issues and suicide.

The peer-to-peer organization is working with mental health professionals who will weigh in on proposals.

“She was loving, giving, smart — she opened her heart to everyone and knew how to see the good in people,” Anderson said of her daughter.

After Abby died, her mother heard stories about just how much her daughter did to help others and it was more than she ever imagined.

“They started opening up and I saw the pain,” she said.

Through the new organization, which held a launch fundraiser recently at Joey C's Boathouse Cantina & Grill in Stratford, Anderson has sights on “inspiring a mental health revolution one friend at a time,” as the organization’s slogan goes.

Anderson said she felt her daughter’s presence all around that day.

She wants to empower young adults and teens to take action, as suicide rates among teenagers and young adults have increased at “an alarming pace in the past decade,” and suicide occurring in children as young as 10.

“From 2007 to 2017, the number of suicides among people ages 10 to 24 suddenly increased 56 percent — this number is staggering,” Anderson said, quoting a national mental health report.

“We need to take action and educate those much younger about mental health,” she said.

She wants others behind the facade — created largely by the stigma she wants to eliminate — to let people know they are struggling, as “mental health is as important as physical health.”

After Abby’s death, others opened about their own struggles, and it was powerful.

“I think the disease takes over and they think the world would be better off without them,” Anderson said she heard from survivors.

The launch of “My Friend Abby” drew hundreds, including a powerhouse of volunteers for the organization who have been touched by mental health issues. Fairfield County philanthropist Stephen Corman gave thousands to launch the event.

Paige Paoletti, 23, of Trumbull, was a friend of Abby’s on the cheerleading squad and also suffered from depression, but the two never really talked about that commonality.

Paoletti, who recently had a mental health crisis, said the launch of “My Friend Abby” and her involvement has been “very healing to me.”

She said she and Abby were great at putting on a happy face and that she was “absolutely in shock” from Abby’s suicide.

Paoletti said always knew she was blessed, but has come to realize it even more as she recognized all the support that has come her way.

“I don’t wake up anymore and want to die,” she said. “I have so much support and I appreciate it.”

Volunteer Fiona Hodgson, of Westport, brings another perspective — she lost a daughter, 37, to suicide 18 years ago, when the stigma was much stronger, there were few helping organizations and medications were not as refined.

Her daughter, Victoria Lovewell, struggled with depression since her early teens and, like Abby, put on a great facade. Victoria spent her life in and out of psychiatric hospitals, Hodgson said.

“She could often fool people, but inside she was in agony,” Hodgson said.

Hodgson has been involved for many years with the National Association of Mental Illness and likes the approach of “My Friend Abby,” because she believes young people will come up with the best ideas.

One approach that has been discussed is a “buddy system,” Hodgson said. Anderson said the programs run by those who seek grants will be evidence-based. For instance, it’s been shown that music helps anxiety, painting is soothing, and these are possibilities, Anderson said.

Hodgson said: “We have to build responsibility and hope in our children. … It’s hope for the next generation.”

She said they want to get young people talking about their mental health struggles.

Hodgson could only recently could bring herself to go through her daughter’s paintings and writings, and felt like “I’ve gotten my daughter back. One poignant piece of writing by Victoria talks about the beauty of the world and of hopefulness.”

For information, visit myfriendabby.org.