Awareness for a silent struggle

Dressed in a bright yellow coat, he sits, huddled halfway down Stationsstraat. The sculpture, created by artist Saskia Stolz, calls for awareness of depression and suicidal thoughts among young people.

At his feet, and even in the boots of the teenager in yellow hoodie are sunflowers, bearing written greeting cards. "Sunflowers are flowers of hope. They point their heads upwards, towards the sun," says Saskia. "It is World Suicide Prevention Week this week, now that I am here in Maastricht with the project, it is a great opportunity to give it extra meaning. People who have had to deal with suicide can put down the flowers with written cards themselves, or order them via our site"

Saskia Stolz made the sculpture because she noticed in her surroundings that many young people struggle with major mental health problems, and sometimes suffer from thoughts of suicide.

According to Stichting 113, which works to prevent suicide, just over 20 young people under 30 die by suicide every month in the Netherlands. "It's a shocking number, but the bad thing is also that it's a big taboo to talk about suicide," says the artist. "I started talking to young people and it did shock me. Talking about suicide is just done very little. Parents are often still open to it, but in schools it is really a problem, I heard that many teachers just skirt around it, find it difficult." Some of the stories Saskia put online, they can be found (in Dutch) on the project's website.

The image of the huddled teenager is so big for a reason. "Young people who feel so sad that they think about suicide often – by not talking – make themselves very small, they just don't want to be there. While, of course, the problem is life-sized, and cries out for attention. The yellow jacket also exudes cheerfulness, as does the number 1. But that number is there because suicide among young people is cause of death number 1. The yellow jacket symbolises the lighthearted way everything is often disguised. You sometimes don't notice the great spiritual distress of young people at all, in these hectic times," she said. 

The Stille Strijd exhibition tour, which began in Amsterdam in mid-July, is still going to quite a few cities, and has already made quite a few tongues wag. Also in Maastricht. "It really touches me", says one of the ladies who had stood motionless for a while looking at the tickets "It's not nothing that young people have to deal with nowadays. Yes, I think it is a very good thing that attention is being paid to this."

Sunday 10 September is World Suicide Prevention Day – when there will be a rally at the statue in Maastricht. Wethouder Anita Bastiaans will be there, as will people from Stichting 113, and the artist herself. "We also have a first then. The Voice winner Dani will come and sing then. It will be a special song, because he too has had to deal with suicide in his environment. It's bound to be special," Saskia Stolz said.

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For support outside the Netherlands, contact Suicide Stop International Help Centre or Find a Helpline.