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Greely Students Dig Deep to “Smash Stigmas” Surrounding Mental Health

River Cochran, the organizer of the Yellow Tulip Planting.

River Cochran, the organizer of the Yellow Tulip Planting.

Emily Stinneford

Emily Stinneford

River Cochran, the organizer of the Yellow Tulip Planting.

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In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, River Cochran, a junior at Greely High School, reached out to the Yellow Tulip Project, an organization that focuses on bringing people together to talk about mental health in communities around Maine, to create our school’s very own Tulip Team. River planned and executed the planting of a Hope Garden, the group’s signature activity. Cochran and his friends, family, teachers, and classmates joined together to plant approximately 150 yellow tulips–which, according to the Yellow Tulip Project, represents “happiness and hope”–in the flower bed outside the main entrance of the high school.

Volunteers prepared the garden and invited unexpecting students and teachers to participate in planting as they left for the day. The bulbs will sit until they bloom next spring, as the organization intends to remind people of  “newness and spring time which brings light and warmth.

After the tulips were planted, English teacher Lori Gunn spoke of her excitement for the event and introduced Suzanne Fox, the co-founder of the Yellow Tulip Project, who spoke of her fierce beliefs surrounding mental health. Her own daughter, Julia Hansen, lost her two best friends to suicide and suffered from depression herself. Together they founded their association. As Fox said, “The Yellow Tulip Project is meant to help smash the stigma around mental illness. We need to talk about mental illness, not suffer alone or feel ashamed.” One of their main goals is to instill a sense of hope among individuals diagnosed with mental illnesses and among the families, friends, and communities of those suffering.

Fox stressed the importance of normalizing the conversation rather than allowing an illness to hang over individuals, isolating them when they most need support. She smiled at the mention of her foundation growing, “What started as this sweet small idea is taking off,” she stated, which is important as “no one should be doing this alone.”

Alison Ingles, the Youth President of the Yellow Tulip Project ambassador program, also commented on the group’s growth: “I’ve been involved for a little over a year, to see how much its taken off has been incredible.” Fox’s main wish is to “build community and smash the stigma”; she wants those suffering to know “it’s okay to not be okay.”

Cochran also chose to say a few words to the small gathering. He described having a mental illness as being consistently trapped in a bad day: “imagine if you stayed there, stuck in that dark, narrow place. This is what it’s often like to live with a mental illness. Your perception becomes constricted, narrow, dark, and collapsed.”

He also raised concern for the stigma our society has created surrounding mental health: “People seem plenty happy to talk about mental health and suicide but only if its with hushed voices and behind closed doors. I don’t want to do it this way anymore. I want to open those doors and raise my voice. I want to create an understanding that no matter where you are in your life, no matter how low you may feel you have fallen, no matter how bleak your outlook is, this is not the end.”

The event was moving and powerful, but this conversation is far from over. Many students, including River, believe it is extremely important to open up about mental health within our school. Senior Anna Dewolfe, an attendee of the event, urged greater participation: “This is something that is really important. Everyone should get involved.”

Another attendee, senior Julia Martel, agreed that mental illness is “so hard for family, friends, and community members. It affects everyone. Doing this, it shows to the community that students are taking part.”

In May Cochran hopes to hold another ceremony to recognize Mental Health Month and the blooming of the tulips. The Yellow Tulip Project also has events planned for May and just recently held their third annual Community Hope Garden Planting in Longfellow Square, Portland. Through organizations like The Yellow Tulip Project, events like Greely’s tulip planting, and people like River Cochran, hopefully society can begin to understand mental illness and “smash the stigmas” surrounding it.


Other Resources:


~National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-8255 or text ANSWER to 839863

~Crisis Text Line

741-741 text ‘TWLOHA’

~NAMI Helpline

(National Alliance on Mental Illness)


~The Trevor Project (LGBTQ)

1-866-488-7386 or chat & text


Or contact


Peter Scott LCSW

(207) 829-4836 or 829-4805

[email protected]


or Tiffany McPhetres LADC, LCPC

(207) 829-4805 x278

[email protected]

About the Contributor
Emily Stinneford, Ranger Review Staff Writer and Contributor

I am a junior at Greely High School and a contributor for The Ranger Review. I am interested in pursuing a career in journalism as I appreciate the sharing...

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