ALPENA — Sawyer Boyd knew how to make his friends laugh.
A great friend brimming with creativity, the 2016 Alpena High School graduate struggled with depression and, in the fall of 2016, committed suicide.
Boyd was not alone. Growing numbers of young adults are reporting feelings of helplessness, depression and suicidal thoughts – enough to lead the US Surgeon General in December to implore the public to ensure young people get mental health help that they need.
In May, designated nationally as Mental Health Awareness Month, an Alpena company partnered with a mental health agency to use coffee mugs to connect residents of all ages to help they might need in times of mental crisis.
And a small group of classmates are finding ways to support others who, like their friend Sawyer, can’t laugh about their mental health issues.
Communities that welcome up-and-coming artists can save lives, said Gavin MacDonald, one of the founders of Alpena’s new nonprofit, the Sunset Project, which will support creative work by young people through the Sawyer J. Boyd Creatives.
“There are tons of people who are creative and struggling with their mental health,” MacDonald said. “It’s an honor to help people use his name.”
Suicide attempts and self-harm among young people resulting in hospitalization increased by 45% between the first half of 2019 and the same period in 2021, according to the Association of Children’s Hospitals.
The jump follows an already staggering increase in self-harm among teens and young adults during the pre-pandemic years, with suicide rates among young Americans aged 10 to 24 rising 57% between 2007 and 2018, according to the US Department of Health and Human Resources. Services.
When Boyd passed away, MacDonald and several other friends from the AHS Class of 2016 knew they wanted to do something in their friend’s honor to help other young people struggling with mental health issues.
The result, the Sunset Project, was released to the public earlier this year.
The founders of the project have raised funds to provide scholarships to help young people between the ages of 16 and 23 pursue their creative ambitions.
The Sunset Project will purchase supplies to help grantees achieve their artistic goals. Supplies can range from a camera for a photographer to tools for a carpenter, MacDonald said.
The project founders hope to expand art competitions and mental health awareness programs at school next year.
The Sunset Project aims to let young creatives — who may stray from traditional college or professional streams and feel a lack of community support — see that they are valued and embraced for who they are, MacDonald said.
Leaders of the Northeast Michigan Community Mental Health Authority heard about the Sunset Project while looking for ways to mark May as Mental Health Awareness Month.
Building on a collaboration already in place with CHM, the owner of Alpena’s downtown business, Cabin Creek Coffee, has developed a new coffee blend – dubbed Be Grounded Coffee – to sell at the store until while stocks last.
Thirty percent of every purchase of the mix will go to the Sunset Project.
In early May, Cabin Creek customers began noticing Community Mental Health logos and contact information on the cardboard sleeves of their coffee cups.
One in five adults suffer from mental illness, but many don’t know who to call to ask questions or get help in a crisis, said Mary Crittenden, CMH’s chief operating officer.
The agency hopes people visit the website and call the crisis phone number listed on the sleeves, even if they just want to ask a simple question, Crittenden said.
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Sawyer J. Boyd Creatives Grant Sunset Project Fact Sheet by Julie Riddle on Scribd
The pandemic has increased mental stress for many people, and local mental health practitioners are extremely busy, Crittenden reported.
Still, she says, the climate surrounding mental illness is healthier than it was when she arrived at Alpena a decade ago, when few people were talking about it.
Mental health care becomes contagious once it’s accepted as the norm, Crittenden said, encouraging residents to continue that care, whether through professional counseling, medication or support groups.
“It’s okay to get help,” Crittenden said. “Mental health matters.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.
For mental health help in the Alpena area, call the Northeast Michigan Community Mental Health Authority Crisis Hotline at 989-356-2161 or 800-968-1964. Callers do not need to be in the midst of a mental health crisis to call the helpline.
Mental health in numbers
Among American adults in 2020:
One in five people have suffered from a mental illness
One in 20 people have suffered from a serious mental illness
More than 12 million had serious suicidal thoughts.
Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness