ELLSWORTH — Depression. Anxiety. These are the current buzzwords for teenagers and those who work with them after a year-plus of shutdowns, hybrid or remote schooling and social distancing. But students at Ellsworth High School were called to action through the Yellow Tulip Project, a movement that began in Falmouth and spread as a nation of youth caught on. The initiative aims to “smash the stigma of mental illness” through open conversations about mental illness and mental health struggles.
EHS seniors Abigail Mazgaj and Calvin Nelson both were drawn to the project through their involvement with the school chapter of Rachel’s Challenge, which addresses bullying in schools. The two spoke to School Board members on April 13 about the project with Assistant Principal Rebecca Wright and Adult Education Director Annie Sargent.
“If you yourself don’t struggle with these things, you know someone who does,” board member Beth Alteri said. “I think it will be an amazing connection for all these students.”
Sargent first brought the Yellow Tulip Project to the EHS leadership team, which already “had concerns with student mental health and what CVOID-19 is doing to them long term,” Wright said.
For Abigail, the past year or so has been especially difficult. Her father, diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004, died in 2019, leaving her mother a single mom and Abigail and her two siblings struggling.
“General anxiety disorder runs in my family, so that’s an issue for me. And for me and my peers, it’s been a hard year for everybody,” she said, then added, “I feel these issues have always been here, and this pandemic has kind of helped uncover them.”
“Mental illness is a really relevant issue today,” he said. “There’s a lot of people you wouldn’t expect to have anxiety and depression who are trying to sweep it under the rug and play it cool. I think it should be a topic that is easy to talk about and not be looked at in a distasteful kind of way.”
Toward that goal, the Yellow Tulip Project will bring the following events to the city:
• On May 13, the Ellsworth Public Library and Healthy Acadia will host a live online community conversation with teens and adults. The exact time is still to be determined.
• On May 15, Hope Day will be held outdoors from 10 to 11 a.m. at a venue to be announced, with speakers, testimonials and music by EHS students.
• Local businesses and organizations may accept yellow tulips to display in their windows with a Hope Happens sign and support fall plantings of yellow tulips throughout the city.
• An “I Am More” photograph display will be hung at the high school to spread the message of hope and start conversations.
• An ongoing display in the J.B. Atlantic Building highlights the project through its symbol, yellow tulips.
The Yellow Tulip Project has already found local support from Heart of Ellsworth, the library, Healthy Acadia, the city of Ellsworth and Machias Savings Bank in addition to EHS and Ellsworth Adult Education.
“I think getting people together to talk about it is like Alcoholics Anonymous, where people get together and speak about their problem,” Calvin said. “They understand they’re not alone in this and understand that others are with them.”
Bucksport High School instituted the Yellow Tulip Project in 2019 with the help of then school resource officer Eric Marcel and other members of the public safety department.