Rattle the Stars advocates for mental health awareness


Photo Courtesy of Shania Wright

Photograph by Shania Wright for Arts for Understanding.

By Meral Aycicek, Contributing writer

On April 7, Kim Bryan walked into her son’s room and suddenly screamed, alerting the entire household that something was wrong.

Immediately, Bryan called 911 to alert them that her son, 19-year-old Samuel Blisset, committed suicide.

While on the phone with the operator she asked, panicked, “What am I supposed to do without my son?”

Blisset was a Champaign resident who attended Western Illinois University and Parkland College before committing suicide near the end of his freshman year.

Bryan said after her son’s death, friends and family started bringing them artwork and poetry to express their condolences. Bryan and her daughter, Kaylee, saw this as a coping mechanism for their community, and Rattle the Stars was born.

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Rattle the Stars is hosting its first art event, Art for Understanding, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of UC, at 309 W. Green St., Urbana. Community members submitted artwork, written work or spoken word pieces about their experiences with mental illness and suicide in an effort to help students open up about their struggles.

Currently, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in America.

On average, there are about 117 suicides per day and for every suicide, there are about 25 suicide attempts, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Every year more than 570,000 teenagers attempt suicide and about 12 high school students kill themselves every day.

In the face of all of this, Blisset’s family chose to focus on a more uplifting fact.

“It takes one person to save a life, and you only have to save one person to be a hero,” Bryan said.

The name “Rattle the Stars” comes from one of Blisset’s favorite movies, “Treasure Planet,” and encompasses the idea that every person has the power to change the world.

This goal of the organization is “to beat the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide in adolescents and young adults … to normalize the topics of mental illness and suicide so that no one ever feels alone or suffers in silence,” according Rattle the Stars official website.

Rattle the Stars advocates for suicide and mental illness awareness and regularly talks to students in local high schools about mental illness.

Bryan said that while most people are open to talking about these problems, there is sometimes negative feedback, especially from parents, about the normalization of suicide.

“Those students who are hiding their depression, they are very much like my son, they feel like this is something they need to be ashamed about. We don’t realize how many students are attempting suicide,” Bryan said.

Shania Wright, junior in FAA, is one of the artists who submitted work for the event. Her piece “Noisserped” is a collection of photos of people underwater.

“I took my own life experiences and expressed them underwater, so when I went through my anxiety and depression I felt like I was drowning, and the coldness of it really hones in on how I felt through my struggles with depression,” Wright said.

Natale Brunelle, freshman in LAS, is another artist whose work will be on display.

“I wrote a collection of ten poems. I have depression, so they help me express how I’m feeling and my relationships with people in my life,” Brunelle said.

Brunelle said she wants people to look at her work and see that everyone is a person, regardless of what they are going through, and everyone deserves to be loved and respected.

She also said she hopes her work helps viewers become aware that the person standing next to them might be going through something terrible, and they have the power to help those around them.

“I know it sounds cliché, but it does get better. I’ve been dealing with this since I was 12,” Brunelle said. Find something that makes you happy and build a support system around yourself. Focus on you. There is always a community of people who are going through what you are going through, so just hold on to yourself and know that it gets better.”

Both Brunelle and Wright expressed their hopes that anyone struggling with mental illness seeks help.

“There are people out there who are feeling what you feel, and they will help you,” Wright said.

Bryan, Wright and Brunelle said people who have never dealt with mental illness or suicidal thoughts have a responsibility to educate themselves on these issues and become a resource for anyone in need.

“What we really want people to know is that it doesn’t take that much to be a hero. All you really have to do is pay attention to the people you know, and not be afraid to reach out to them,” Bryan said.

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