Paige Trigony and Elizabeth Emrick spent their Wednesday afternoon outside battling gusting winds and chasing down runaway papers to set up a colorful display of 1,110 words of encouragement on campus.
They individually tied 1,110 pieces of brightly colored laminated paper with uplifting words written on them to a string, to represent the 1,110 college students who commit suicide every year.
Trigony and Emrick are nursing students in professor Leah Matteson’s Community Health class and have teamed up with Martha Coulter, director of The Wellness Center, to raise suicide awareness on campus.
They call it “Project LifeLine.”
The idea derived from a project called “Send Silence Packing,” an effort supported by the Active Minds organization, in which they travel to different schools to raise awareness by putting 1,110 backpacks on display.
Although Coulter said bringing the display to Castleton was “cost prohibitive,” Trigony and Emrick brainstormed the most effective way to make a visual impact. “We wanted to give it a positive meaning, so we went with 1,100 messages of hope. We talked about T-shirts, backpacks, balloons, but this seemed the most feasible way,” Trigony said.
The idea worked too, because students were coming up to them all day to take a closer look. Many “smiled and laughed” as they read the cards, some even took pictures of the display.
“I looked on the social media page this morning and the Instagram post had 200 likes. They had a lot of people stopping and saying how important it was, and they also had groups of visitors that were touring the campus. Parents were reading the signs and making comments, so I think it was really successful,” Matteson said.
It wasn’t a solitary effort though, as groups of students and faculty teamed up to make the project a reality by finding numbers for helplines, writing inspirational quotes, getting other people’s stories, and even writing reasons to live — like “bacon” and “cupcakes.”
“It started out as just us, and then along the way we’ve had people help us here and there with cutting cards, tying ribbon, or tying them to the strings outside. Lauren Reck also helped with a lot of the messages as well,” Emrick said.
Sara Stearns, a student at Castleton who has struggled with suicidal thoughts and depression in the past, loves the idea of “Project LifeLine” and says she was excited when she first saw the email looking for volunteers to help.
“When I first heard about it, I immediately wanted to go and write a message down…it was something along the lines of ‘even on the darkest of days, there is always some sort of light,’” she said.
She also wrote the message “with struggle comes strength,” a phrase she has tattooed on her forearm.
“It’s good to know that someone's there, so in any way that you could tell someone that they’re not alone and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, I think it’s a great idea,” she said.
Jillian Stocker, a nursing student at Castleton believes the demonstration allows people who aren’t ready to seek help to gain confidence in knowing that someone is there for them when they are ready.
“I think the reason that doing this is so valuable is that some people aren’t ready or willing to ask for help, or they’re too embarrassed to ask for help when it comes to feelings of suicide. So being able to read those signs being that they’re so public would be good for those people,” Stocker said.
According to a recent study at Emory University, one in 10 college students has made a plan to commit suicide at least once. The 2014 National College Health Assessment shows that 33 percent of college students felt so depressed that it was difficult to function at times.
Matteson says it is important for schools to have demonstrations like “Project LifeLine” because it creates a safe haven for people who may be having suicidal thoughts, and reassures them that there is always help available on campus.
“One of the great things about Castleton is they have a ‘Castleton Support Team’ referral, and when faculty recognize a student who is struggling with something, they can refer them for screenings and counseling,” Matteson said. She added that The Wellness Center has recently seen an increase in the referral numbers that they are receiving.
The Wellness Center has an annual Depression Screening Day, has counselors present in FYS classes, holds wellness fairs, offers Student Support Network training, and other initiatives to offer support to anyone who may be feeling suicidal, lonely or depressed, according to Coulter.
“Among the protective factors of preventing suicide are a sense of belonging, a sense of hope for the future, and awareness of support available to students,” Coulter said in an email interview. “We are grateful to Paige and Liz for their hard work in creating further awareness on our campus!”
“Project LifeLine” will return to campus in the fall semester in September.