PITTSBURG — For many, tattoos are people’s connection to their past and a symbol of expression.

Pittsburg State University student Ashley Denton is hosting a raffle fundraiser for the Crawford County Area American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. People who enter the raffle have a chance to win a $200 gift certificate from Becky Ashcraft at Brickhaus Tattoos in Joplin.

“I'm incredibly grateful for her kindness,” Denton said. “Without her, this project would not be happening.”

Raffle tickets are $1 and can be purchased from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Overman Student Center at PSU and online at gofundme.com/Make-Suicide-Preventable. Including an email when making a donation online will result in an email confirmation for a raffle ticket.

People are not limited to just one ticket she said. The winner will be announced April 2 on her Facebook page, Make Suicide Preventable and through email.

Denton said the money donated to the foundation will fund research for suicide prevention — including providing resources and aid for people affected by suicide, for education about suicide and suicide prevention and to help people in the community obtain mental health services.

“Their mission is to save lives and give hope, and I would like to raise $1,000 to donate to them and their work to prevent suicide,” she said.

She said in Kansas, there is a death by suicide every 18 hours, on average.
“We hear of homicide every day, yet suicide occurs at a far higher rate than homicide,” Denton said. “No one likes to hear about suicide, but if we don't start talking about it, we can never prevent it.”

Tattoos can help people who struggle with mental health or who care for someone who is either struggling with mental health or has lost someone because of suicide, Denton said.

“Tattoos can be therapeutic, beautiful and daily reminders of those we love, those we have lost, and the struggles we have endured,” Denton said. “There is a whole movement connecting tattoos and mental illness — the semicolon project, which in short, is getting a tattoo of a semicolon to represent that suicide is preventable and that when we feel we are at the end of our path, we choose to go on, much like a semicolon in a sentence instead of a period.”

Denton said she too has dealt, and has continued to deal with mental illness.
“I share my story because, although it is scary to be so vulnerable and exposed, I believe it is important to share, to speak about it, and to understand if we are to ever end the stigma against mental illness and begin to prevent suicide,” she said. “There is always hope, and unless we can begin to speak out it, people will continue to die to a treatable illness.
“If we begin to think of mental illness on par with physical illness, I think there will be a huge difference in how successful treatment can be.”

Denton — who has multiple tattoos — wanted to host a unique fundraiser.

“My tattoos have great importance to me, I have a tattoo for my daughter, I have a tattoo in memorial to my cousin whom I was very close to growing up,” she said. “I also have the start of flowers on my left forearm that cover many of my self-harm scars from long ago.”

She said the tattoos which cover self-harm scars “helps them to heal and see something beautiful on their arms instead of the scars.”

Denton is a social work major with a minor in psychology.

“I chose social work because I have always wanted to help others and I did not know what I could do to make a difference,” she said. “I watched people around me suffer in the world, including myself, and I wanted to do something about that.

“I'm particularly interested in working in mental health because of my own struggles and the struggles of people I love. I feel as though my personal experiences will benefit me in helping others with mental illness because I understand it on a personal level.”

After she graduates, Denton plans to work in the mental health field and is currently a Crisis Counselor volunteer for the Crisis Text Line, which is a service that provides free, 24/7 support to people in crisis through text messages.

“Although it is challenging to help people through a crisis, I find it rewarding that I can de escalate people in their time of need and hopefully help them during that crucial time,” she said. “I am further learning reflective listening, collaborative problem solving and crisis management from this opportunity, which I know will be important skills when I graduate and begin my career in mental health services.”
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.