Ashley Ferraro, an English teacher at Golden High School in Denver, Colo., walked into the student bathroom on January 17 and saw a note scrawled on the wall of one of the stalls.
The note read: “Is life worth all the B.S.?”
First, Ferraro wanted to clean it off and get rid of it, worried other students would see the question. She paused, though, and realized the power of those words. “I just thought, if we erase this...are we ignoring the question that’s being asked here, and are we ignoring the person that asked the question and the pain that they’re in?” Ferraro said.
So instead, she asked her students, if they were comfortable, to write encouraging words on sticky notes to put on the bathroom wall around the original note to show support for those struggling with mental health issues. “It was really heartwarming to see how many kids responded, and how many of the kids who responded are not the ones we would have expected to,” she told TODAY Parents. She read through the notes, and then placed them on the bathroom wall.
The response from students was overwhelming, and positive, and the display of sticky notes stretched into the hallway. “We wanted to make sure all of our students had the opportunity to join in the conversation…and let them know that they’re invited to,” said Ferraro. The wall is now covered with hundreds of sticky notes from students all over the school, featuring positive messages about the joys and the value of life.
“Yes, because you will find love in your future soulmate, in yourself, in your favorite things to do, in the small things in life,” read one of Ferraro's favorites.
Students from around the school have spread the word about this movement. Hannah Blackman, a 16-year-old sophomore started a Facebook fundraiser for the National Suicide Prevention and Crisis Organization. She has raised more than $400.
Blackman said she understands what it's like to struggle with mental health. "I've been there too, I know how that feels... and [the students] here prove that, no matter how hard things can be, there's always another side," said Blackman.
Taylor Volek, 16, and Solidea Ficco, 15, also support this mental health advocacy movement. "Everyone goes through something, and we want people to know there is hope," said Volek. According to the students, the number of messages on the wall continues to grow, and they are excited to see it keep going. "If we can keep acting on this, maybe we can reach a point where more people feel comfortable talking about it, not just in our community, but other communities as well," said Ficco.
The student who wrote the original message on the wall did not come forward, but assistant principal Christina Gese said she hopes that they found the support they needed. "I hope whoever wrote the note sees it now and is feeling better... our main goal is to help people get out of that hurtful and sad place," Blackman added.
Recently, one student approached a group of administrators who were admiring the wall. They invited her to write a note and post it. The student, Gese said, responded by saying, “Not today, because today, I need the wall.”
Both Gese and Ferraro were impressed by the willingness of the students to talk about such a difficult subject so openly. “Kids want this,” Gese said. “We often think that if there’s some sort of suicidal statement we need to shield kids from it, but the reality is that they’re going to talk about it anyway.” They agreed that the wall has opened up a conversation about mental health and encouraged students to support each other.
Golden High School participates in a district-wide program called Sources of Strength, said Michelle Gonzales, the school district’s suicide prevention coordinator. The program allows students to talk about suicide prevention and mental health as part of a community effort, and, according to Gonzales, programs like this have paid off, helping students stay “strong and connected.”
“We’re trying to normalize resilience," said Gonzales, "and this wall symbolizes that resilience.”
Golden High School Principal Brian Conroy said that the wall has also opened a conversation about mental health with parents, who have shared their own perspectives.
“Parents all believe that their kid is doing great things, even though they actually might be struggling," said Conroy. "Parents don’t always talk to other parents, especially if it’s outside of their small social group. They see this response (from the kids) and feel connected to it.”
Although Ferraro said the administration is keeping a careful watch over what is posted on the wall, students are now allowed to add sticky notes without having them screened first.
Ferraro said that her students are excited to see the notes' impact. “I was just a very small part of this movement," said Ferraro. "It was my kids who ran with it and shared it.
“Their words have impact, and they want to pass that on to other kids as well.”
If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, anytime.