Suicides prompt Portland student to confront stigma about mental illness

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PORTLAND — Julia Hansen decided to do something to bring awareness to mental illness after she lost two of her closest friends to suicide within six months.

Hansen, a 16-year-old student at Waynflete School, created the Yellow Tulip Project. she said she was “left in a state of complete hopelessness” after two of her friends took their own lives, but wanted to spread the message that “there is hope.”

Hansen said the project’s goal is to abolish the stigma surrounding mental illness, which prevents people from seeking the help they need.

“I want people to know there is hope and they are loved,” Hansen said. She said she hopes the project will help those suffering from mental illness realize “they shouldn’t be ashamed” to seek help.

The Yellow Tulip Project also hopes to honor her two friends and create a community dialogue. Right now the project has a Facebook page, but Hansen said eventually she hopes to have a website. She is beginning to sell merchandise, including water bottles and shirts, with all the proceeds going to the National Alliance of Mental Illness in Maine.

Hansen said there has been a large amount of support so far, with positive messages being posted on the project’s Facebook page. She said it’s good to know other people are on the same mission.

Hansen is planning to plant hope gardens with yellow tulip bulbs this fall, and eventually she would like to do a fundraising walk.

Hansen said she choose yellow tulips as the face of the project for several reasons. Yellow is a happy color, she said, and tulips have to push away hard, frozen dirt to bloom. Additionally, yellow was one of her friend’s favorite colors, and tulips were her other friend’s favorite flower.

“Seeing it reminds me of them,” she said. “I want people to look at yellow tulips and feel hope.”

Hansen said she wants the Yellow Tulip Project to be a place where people can join the energy, tell their stories, and end the stigma that keeps those suffering from seeking help.

“Even in the absolute darkest, depressed places, do not give up,” Hansen said. “There will be a day when things get better.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Julia Hansen started the Yellow Tulip Project after two of her closest friends at the Waynflete School in Portland committed suicide. The project aims to spread hope and bring awareness to the stigma surrounding mental illness.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.