By now, many have likely seen or heard of a brand new bulletin board in Barstow’s halls. This is the first project of many in sophomore Maddie Browning’s push for better suicide awareness in our community. The board resides in the senior-junior hallway and features teal, purple, and yellow ribbons, which symbolize suicide prevention and awareness. Everyone is open to take one of these ribbons and write messages, so long as they stay respectful of information that anyone might deem sensitive or private. The goal of these ribbons is to allow people to write messages of positivity and support for anyone suffering from mental illness. They range from names of lost loved ones to pieces of advice and phone numbers of people that are open to listen. The board also provides several hotlines for suicide and anxiety, as well as links to suicide prevention organizations like the Trevor Project.
Maddie’s project began with a request to Mrs. Guldin to make a short announcement during morning assembly regarding suicide awareness and prevention month. However, the project took off from there. Mrs. Guldin saw the opportunity to, in her words, “provide a public space to show support for everyone in the Barstow community whose life has been touched by this difficult issue and take ownership of the space as a forum for demonstrating friendship, understanding, and support.” Thus, with the aid of Mrs. Guldin, Mrs. Chanos, and Mr. Horsley, Maddie began brainstorming approaches to more thoroughly overhaul Barstow’s suicide awareness.
These approaches include the bulletin board as well as stickers that read “It’s OK to Ask 4 Help.” Anyone is open to take these stickers and blazon them on laptops, bumpers, and backpacks. “The stickers are to show support for this cause,” Maddie explains. “By wearing a sticker, you're saying ‘This is an important topic that I believe should be addressed and one that I support.’” The stickers speak to a problem that we, as teenagers, struggle with. As we prepare to start college, we feel pressure to find independence and embrace the responsibility of adulthood. As such, I find that we are more inclined to try to deal with our mental issues alone, as there’s a perceived weakness in asking for help. The stickers and the project as a whole push back against this dangerous mindset. They serve as a reminder that there are constantly people who want to listen. While independence is important, it’s equally important for all of us to understand that there are certain things that teenagers simply can’t fix. It’s absolutely fine to listen to a friend or classmate’s mental issues, but you can neither expect nor be expected to fix them. The best thing you can do to support someone is to tell someone with the education and experience to do something. Luckily, we have two professionals that are here to listen to our problems and point us in the right direction.
Maddie and the counselors also have plans for the future of the project. Some of these plans have already been put into practice in the form of Mrs. Chanos and Mr. Horsley’s push for more mindfulness in our daily lives. Mindfulness, in simple terms, is staying focused on one’s present feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Using mindfulness as a meditative and therapeutic tool can help relieve stress and increase productivity and motivation. Mrs. Chanos says, “We hope to further support any initiatives brought forward by the students, including outside speakers, special screenings, and other information sessions. In addition, we are bringing in monthly programming to the Upper, Middle and Lower School Students that will address other emotional issues that may be relative to suicidal ideation, such as anxiety, depression, friendship, social media, and self-esteem. If the student body has ideas, we'd love to hear them!”
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so Maddie is currently planning a project about keeping your headspace healthy during the stress and pressure of finals week. However, Maddie’s passion for this topic will continue improving the community for years to come. She says, “I hope to continue spreading awareness for these causes each year at Barstow, and once I graduate I hope to find a student who is willing to continue my plans and build off of them.”
This project might not resonate as personally with people who don’t struggle with mental illness, and that’s understandable. However, there are still lessons to be learned. I think the most important message to take away from Maddie’s project is that you’ve probably been affected by anxiety, depression, or suicide in one way or another. If you don’t experience it yourself, chances are you know someone who does. Sadly, mental illness is especially prominent in our age group, with suicide being the second leading cause of death among adolescents aged 15-19. It’s a sensitive, personal subject for many of us. Thanks to Maddie, we have a newfound focus on openness and mutual support. She’s combatting a stigma that mental illness is some taboo affliction that should stay hidden behind fake smiles and forced platitudes. Take the opportunity to learn something about your peers. You’d be surprised what you might find. For those of us struggling with our own or a loved one’s unsoundness of mind, Maddie offers the following: “As someone who knows what mental illness feels like and what it can do to your self esteem and your outlook of the world, you are never alone. There will always be someone willing to listen to what you are feeling, whether it is a teacher, parent, therapist, psychiatrist, or a friend.”