17-year-old Gavin Stewart is well-known in the halls of Solon Springs High School.
Gavin is described by his teachers and classmates as friendly, funny, caring, and a leader, who is immensely dedicated and involved in the school district.
"I’m part of the NLC which is the Northern Lakes Coalition against Drugs and Alcohol Abuse. I was also in youth leadership at the school and student council," Stewart said.
Although he's known to others as a happy teenager on the outside, there was a point in his life where he was crumbling on the inside with deeper issues. He was struggling with depression and struggling with his mental health. Last year, he hit a breaking point that almost cost him his life.
"I found myself more and more thinking about suicide, what would it feel like if I was not here. They were dark thoughts and it scared me,” Stewart said.
At an assembly at his school, Gavin opened his heart and bravely shared his suicide attempt and road to recovery in front of a full gymnasium.
"Something snapped, I didn't know what it was. I don't know what triggered it, but something snapped where I knew what I had to do. I made a decision that I thought at that point I needed to kill myself," Stewart said.
After the suicide attempt, Gavin decided to get help. He was able to rise up from a difficult moment in his life.
"I'm glad that I asked for help, I’m happy that my friends forced me to get help, and I’m glad that I have supportive friends and supportive family," Stewart said.
Determined to help other kids, Gavin helped organize the assembly to encourage others to reach out when struggling. What started off as a senior project has now become a life mission.
"The Canvas Blanket Project is a suicide awareness movement among teens," Stewart said.
His goal is to visit schools across the state and talk about suicide prevention and mental health.
"Gavin has opened up to me and told me his life story and I’ve been wanting to support him ever since I’ve met him," Megan Gaynor, a teacher and senior project advisor for Solon Springs High School, said.
Megan is helping with the project and Russ Nelson, a counselor for Solon Springs High School, hopes other students can be inspired.
"He is still here with us today now to come through the other side and share his message of hope," Nelson said.
Gavin's project will also focus on positive and healthy community events for teens, to help take away the isolation that comes for those struggling with mental health.
"Hosting game nights, karaoke nights, just something to get kids to come together and have fun," Stewart said.
The project's slogan is, "Write your own story, be the voice that makes change."
"What I’m talking about is what I did to get help. Hopefully if I can help one person do that, it's a win in my book," Stewart said.
"Mental illness and suicide comes with a stigma of you’re just sad and get over it. That is completely the opposite of the truth, it’s a medical condition,” Nelson said.
Gavin has come to his truth slowly. The project is named after a canvas blanket he was given during his time at the medical center he went to after his suicide attempt. The blanket is often used for people on suicide watch to prevent self-harm. Gavin described the blanket as stiff and uncomfortable.
"At first I hated it just like how I hated myself for who I became. Over the time I was there, this canvas blanket, I couldn't sleep without it. It was weighted and made me feel safe and at home," Stewart said.
Gavin said his changing feelings toward the blanket reflect how he felt on the inside, slowly feeling comfortable with himself again and slowly learning to accept and love himself again.
"Everything that we can do, even small steps to help support our youth in this the best that we can is severely important,” Gaynor said.
"I am hoping through Gavin’s work, he will teach many people that they can turn for help and help is out there and help is available for this,” Nelson said.
"It's ok to ask for help, it's ok to say you're not doing ok, and that's what people need to understand,” Stewart said.
If you or a loved one are in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-talk (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
To help donate to Gavin’s cause, click here.
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