Everyone has a Story. What’s Yours? Students respond to National Suicide Prevention Week

By Sarah Miller – Horizon News & Features Editor

T-shirt design for participants in the “Choose Hope” campaign. The actual t-shirt will have blank boxes so students have the option of writing in their own story.

What gives you strength on your worst days?

Is it the support of a close friend? Or is it something small, like a cup of coffee before class?

For Hannah Brinker, finding strength and hope can sometimes be as simple as noticing the small, beautiful moments in life.

As a nursing student, Brinker has seen many people at their lowest and still find joy in the little things in their life. If they can do that, “I can find happiness in my life,” she said.

Brinker is one of several students who participated in the “Choose Hope” campaign during National Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 10-16.

Julie Lehman, campus counselor, invited students to respond to a prompt: “This story helps me choose hope.” Students replied with stories of finding strength in their weakest moments.

“It’s a risk to share stories,” Lehman said. “By writing ‘Choose Hope’ stories, we are choosing to take a risk, to let people know what keeps us going when things are difficult, and to inspire other to do the same.”

People feel like everyone else has their life together, Lehman said. Even though we want others to think that we do, Lehman knows it’s not true.

“We are isolating ourselves by not sharing those stories that are most vulnerable to us,” Lehman said. “But those are the very things that would help us to connect.”

Students are not alone in their struggles, and stories help bridge that gap of misunderstanding, Lehman said.

“I hope that focusing on stories of hope can both inspire people to think within themselves and that through others reading them that it might prompt them to think of their own,” Lehman said.

Students around campus not only chose hope, but also chose to expose their weakest times with students around them.

Being a mom gave Krystal Duerksen hope. The senior nursing major described the darkness of depression in her story.

“Suicide was a thought on my mind every day, trying to decide if I should cut a little deeper or just take some pills and go to sleep,” Duerksen wrote. “But then I got pregnant for my first born son. He is the reason why I am still here.”

“I stopped going to school, eating, and talking to people,” sophomore Elizabeth Eichelberger wrote. “I was at such a low point that I was ready to not be alive anymore. I was fortunate to have a loving family that was always there for me and always helped me.”

The support of loved ones gave her hope.

Lehman sees the resilience of students on campus.

“People that we share this campus with have experienced things that most people never know about,” she said. “It’s incredible what people have overcome to get here, to function in class, and to be a friend. I’ve been reminded again that we are surrounded by people who have a story and have overcome difficulty.”

Everyone has a story, even those who don’t wish to share or think their story is unimportant, Lehman said. Not everyone can relate to being suicidal, but everyone can relate to going through a difficult time.

With that understanding comes a need for greater compassion.

“Maybe that would help us to treat each other with more kindness or more grace or more gentleness,” Lehman said.

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