Ending the Stigma

Some former students joined forces and created Project Silence No More in an effort to spread mental health awareness.


Photo Courtesy of Project Silence No More

Luke Johnson ‘15, Ally Andreasen ‘18, Marcus Miller ‘15, Kelsey Caffrey ‘15, and Tristan Coaldrake ‘15 pose for a photo at the first annual Mental Health Awareness concert.

Kylie Emery, Online Editor

Two days after learning a classmate that he graduated with had committed suicide, Tristan Coaldrake ‘15 received a phone call from Luke Johnson ‘15. “I can still hear it all in the back of my head and I have goosebumps just thinking about it,” Coaldrake said. “He said ‘We’ve got to do something. There needs to be a change.’”

This phone call lead to the creation of Project Silence No More, a local nonprofit organization that was founded by recent graduates Marcus Miller ‘15, Kelsey Caffrey ‘15, Johnson and Coaldrake. Their mission is to normalize the conversation on mental health, depression and suicide in the community by partnering with the school district, working with local businesses and working with various community leaders.

After losing a friend to suicide in 2017, and realizing the community’s unfortunate history with suicide, these former students decided to join forces in an attempt to address the issue in early 2018. “We just kind of sat around and agreed that this could not go on,” Miller said. “I don’t know exactly, but I believe that was either the seventh or eighth suicide in the past eight years. We all agreed that something needed to happen, and then someone just threw out this idea ‘What if we start a nonprofit?’ We all kind of thought ‘That’s a great idea, we don’t really have that much experience, but let’s try.’”

However, starting Project Silence No More was not very easy. “Funny enough, one of our co-founders was studying abroad in Spain at the time and two of us were in Iowa City,” Miller said. “We were having a lot of Skype calls to kind of form things.”

Even though the initial formation of the organization was a little difficult, the founders were amazed at the contributions made from the public. “The outpouring of support that we received from the community was outstanding,” Miller said. “We had a lawyer contact us and wanted to help us get started with the legal paperwork for free. We had someone from our class who was majoring in marketing and graphic design that wanted to help with all of our marketing materials and logo for free. It felt validating. It was really cool to see people — especially young people — rally behind us.”

Coaldrake was also surprised at the public’s support. “I can’t tell you the amount of text messages I’ve received from people just saying ‘Hey, we love what you’re doing and we would love to get involved somehow,’” he said. “That was amazing to see.”

Project Silence No More has many goals that they hope to accomplish as an organization. One goal is to continue to chip away at the stigma surrounding mental illness. “We want to help people understand that having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of,” Miller said. “It’s just like getting a broken arm. We go to the doctor, no big deal. If we go to a therapist, it shouldn’t be a big deal either.”

Another goal the organization has is to see more student involvement. “One thing we hope for is that more students who care about mental health will take on leadership roles and keep it going in the future,” Coaldrake said.

Initially, their target audience was local high school students, but Project Silence No More also hopes to expand to other areas. “We want to eventually partner with other school districts and help them implement their own versions of Project Silence No More,” Miller said. “We also want to be an organization that brings the community together.”

In an effort to connect the public, Project Silence No More is hosting their second annual Mental Health Awareness Concert on July 13 at 6 p.m. The event will be held at Terra Park with food and live music from cover bands such as Vinyl Vagabonds. The concert will also feature performances from former students.

In addition to the music and food, there will be a moment of action where everyone will discuss different ways that they can spread mental health awareness. “Initially, we were going to do a moment of silence, but then we realized that’s directly contradictory to our message, our mission and our name,” Miller said. “So, instead of doing a moment of silence, we decided to do a moment of action.”

Project Silence No More is excited for what the future holds and hopes that they can help end the stigma surrounding mental illness. “I think that one thing that continues to drive me is just the idea that you can’t address a problem if you’re afraid to talk about it in the first place,” Miller said. “That’s exactly what our organization is about, getting that conversation started and continuing that conversation about mental health, depression and suicide.”