Buddy Project shines light on mental health

Editor’s Note: This article contains information about suicide and accounts of loss which may be triggering for some people.



“Alyssa killed herself,” said Ben Stemen, boyfriend of one of my closest friends, Alyssa Gardella.

I’d woken up on the morning of July 13 to a call from Stemen, his words echoing in my head.

In just a few seconds, my world shifted. I’d gone to school with Gardella for two years. I had sleepovers, and gossiped about irrelevant things with her.

My life completely changed, and it wasn’t a change I wanted.

It took me a long time to stop blaming myself for what happened. I spent months thinking to myself, “If you had just called her, or texted her, or done anything different, maybe she would still be alive.”

It took a long time to accept the cold, unforgiving truth that I lost someone I cared for to suicide during what were supposed to be the greatest years of our lives.

Though, when I finally did accept it, I wondered how I could prevent others from feeling that loss.

After Alyssa’s death, I was inspired by the Buddy Project, a nonprofit organization that aims to fight the stigma against mental health, and prevent suicide in teens and young adults.

Through their website, Buddy Project pairs two people in the U.S. together online based on common interests, allowing them to talk to one another and provide a support system whenever needed.

Gabby Frost, founder and CEO of Buddy Project, created the nonprofit organization in April of 2013, and as of November of 2017, over 194,000 people have been paired with buddies.

“Having just one friend to support you through the hardships of your life can really make a difference,” said Frost. “I created Buddy Project to show that to the world.”

Frost says that pairing people online to provide a peer support system helps prevent suicide and self-harm.

Suicide is the second most leading cause of death in 15-24 year olds in the U.S., and since 1950, the rate of suicide has tripled.

According to the American Health College Association, one in 12 college students has planned out their suicide. 1.5 out of 100 actually attempt it.

Buddy Project supports a campus representative program to bring the organization to high school and college campuses across the country.

More than 500 campus ambassadors in the U.S., each of whom serve for one-semester terms, help raise awareness with campaigns such as the “Greater Than the Stigma” campaign that launched this fall that fought against the negative stigma that surrounds mental health.

High school and college are supposedly some of the most notable and fun years in a student’s life. However, academic, financial, familial and societal pressures can build up, leaving students feeling like the only way out is through suicide or self-harm.

Leaving home and being forced to make new friends takes a toll on students, and while some find the new surroundings and intense academics riveting and exciting, others struggle with it.

Shawn Mathew, a senior at the Early College at Guilford, lost a close friend to suicide in November of 2017. His voice shook as he told me about his friend, Jordan Logan.

Logan moved to Asheville, North Carolina after graduating high school in the spring to be closer to his family.

Mathew explained how the isolation from his friends seemed to send Logan into a state of depression, and may have led to his suicide.

“When you’re not around a lot of people, it can get depressive, like, ‘No one cares about me,’” said Mathew.

After Logan’s death, Mathew said he wanted to be more proactive in advocating for mental health.

“Mental health is a really big problem, especially with people our age,” said Mathew. “It didn’t really hit me until after (Logan’s death). I just hope people realize there are people to talk to. I just want to make sure that people know someone cares about them.”

Mathew was passionate about making a difference in our society, which tends to ignore mental health. I share that same passion.

After Gardella’s death, I was inspired to raise awareness and remind my community that suicide is never the answer. I partnered with Guilford to host a blood drive where I provided information about why good mental health is crucial to living a successful life, and how to get help when suffering with depression.

I experienced losing someone to suicide firsthand, and it truly opened my eyes to the importance of mental health and self-care.

“Once you lose someone, of course you’re going to understand,” said Mathew. “No one cares until it’s too late. It’s ridiculous.”

Buddy Project hopes to change that, to give people hope and to remind them that they are not alone.