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Gretta Dotzert and Olivia Miller were inspired to start their project after seeing another teen do something similar. (Photo: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri)

Two Canadian teens are battling suicide with messages of hope

"We see a lot of people struggling, and just not knowing who to turn to and what to say about how they’re feeling."

By Emma Prestwich

Some bridges have signs with suicide prevention helplines, but soon three in southern Ontario will have hopeful, sweet messages tacked to them instead — phrases like "tomorrow needs you" and "You’re worth more than you think."

Two high schoolers are behind the effort to add some positivity to their town and surrounding communities and encourage mental-health awareness.

Olivia Miller and Gretta Dotzert, who are both in Grade 12 at Waterloo-Oxford District Secondary School in New Hamburg, Ont., were inspired to post the messages after they read a story about a teenage girl who did something similar in the U.K.

"She was our age and that was a big factor in it, and that it was something that we could totally accomplish ourselves," said Miller.

"We live in a pretty small town, so we figured that was something that the people in our community would gravitate towards and show up for."

They plan to post the laminated messages in three spots — Hartman Bridge in New Hamburg, Freeport Bridge in Kitchener and Waterloo Park Bridge in Waterloo — this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 

(Photo: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri)

The public is invited to help the teens tack up the notes at Bridges of Hope events in each of the three communities and hear from guest speakers on the topic of mental health.

Any donations collected on the weekend will go to the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council.

Doug and Sandra Ranton, whose 20-year-old son Jacob died by suicide in December 2014, will be speaking at the event in New Hamburg on Friday. They plan to share his story and the message that no one should be ashamed to ask for help.

"Unfortunately he hid behind a smile,” Doug Ranton said of his son. "It seemed like everything was good in his life. He was on a basketball scholarship [and] thriving there. Didn’t share with his teammates, didn’t share with us, didn’t share with his best friends that things weren’t good."

Doug is also a high school guidance counsellor and said he thinks more teens are starting to feel comfortable talking about mental illness, but is concerned that they don’t have timely access to support services. 

Miller said she and Dotzert want their initiative to be a positive force for teens their age. 

"We see a lot of people struggling, and just not knowing who to turn to and what to say about how they’re feeling, and we think it’s just pretty important that we help them feel heard."

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