Story by Sarah Sabatke

Maddie Churchill stands on the Quad during a media event, looking down at a butterfly perched on her outstretched fingertip.
Maddie Churchill takes a moment to admire a butterfly — a symbol in the fight against self-harm — during a Mizzou Student Suicide Prevention Coalition media event on the Quad. Photo courtesy Maddie Churchill

Madeline Churchill knows the statistics about young people and suicide all too well. During her freshman year at Mizzou, she lost her younger brother to suicide.

The Johnston, Iowa, native came to Missouri to study textile and apparel management, eventually switching to a civil engineering major. Her family’s tragedy led her to a new path of involvement — mental health and suicide awareness.

“It took me my fall of sophomore year to kind of recover, and then spring of my sophomore year I decided I wouldn’t want anyone else’s family to have to go through what my family went through,” says Churchill, who graduated in May.

She decided to join the Mizzou Student Suicide Prevention Coalition and, in fall 2018, the MU branch of Active Minds, to raise awareness about mental illness.

“Our goal is to break down the stigma of mental health and provide students with the resources they would need if they ever need help,” she says.

One of the ways Active Minds connects with students is through events like Shed the Silence. Each year, group members lay out 1,100 T-shirts on the grass of MU’s Kuhlman Court to represent each of the college students who die by suicide every year in the U.S.

Every spring, members of Active Minds spread 1,100 T-shirts across Kuhlman Court to symbolize the estimated 1,100 U.S. college students who die each year by suicide. Photo by Sarah Sabatke

By displaying the shirts in such a visually confronting way, Churchill hopes students will realize that suicide “is a bigger problem than a lot of people realize.”

Members of Active Minds — including Churchill — were on hand at the event this past April to answer questions and educate students about the issue of mental health on college campuses, as well as provide directions to necessary resources.

Kira Schneider, former president of Active Minds, says the event is one of the ways the group tries to make students “thoughtfully aware” of the mental health needs of those around them.

While Churchill enjoys the opportunity to educate her peers on campus, she has also found a support system through her involvement.

“Even though I’ve only been in [Active Minds] for six months or so, I know that I could go to any of them with any of my problems,” she says. “We’re all just really passionate about mental health, and so we kind of all know what each other is going through.”

Like the event, Churchill’s goal is simple — to shed the silence surrounding mental health.

“Hopefully, people will realize that it’s OK to talk to someone and to reach out to their friends if they ever need help,” she says.

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