Suicide inspires art, ignites dialogue

By Sam Allenimage

Sun Star Editor-in-Chief

Katrina Howe, 28-year-old UAF electrical engineering student is having an event in the Great Hall on Nov. 1 to present her artwork inspired by three people in her life, two of them fellow UAF students, who have committed suicide. The goal is to increase dialogue and have the UAF community engage in a healthy discussion about suicide.

“This isn’t meant to be a depressing event, it’s a call to life” Howe said. She wants to bring clarity to the topic of depression and suicide and remove the stigma against talking about it.

She is giving a speech about this topic and presenting her artwork: a copper heart, torn apart in three places, stitched together with metal wire. Smaller, metal hearts and dangle down from the larger heart by wire tangled with red thread. The main heart has the names of her friends that have passed on. The title of the piece is, “In Memory of Friends Lost.”

A station for writing letters will be set up, so people can get out their emotions in a healthy way to people close to them who have passed away. Howe plans to put all the letters in a cardboard box, take the box outside and light it on fire and watch the sparks fly skyward. “So, it’s kinda like our letters are getting sent to them.”

Howe, who struggles with her own seasonal depression and once attempted suicide, goes into fall thinking, “How am I going to deal with winter this time?”

In the fall, she starts early, reaching out to friends and building a support group. She also turned her fight with depression into a game, following in video game designer Jane McGonigal’s footsteps.

The game is called SuperBetter, created and developed by McGonigal in order to combat her own depression.

The game is centered around each individual’s life and designed to give the player unique quests and bad guys to defeat based on the challenges they face in real life.

“Instead of it [depression] being after me, I was after it, defeating it,” Howe said. It helped her to see things in a positive light and she wasn’t so scared anymore.

She also wants to catch as many people as possible before they go through the winter, “Their life matters and we want them around so they need to know it’s worth fighting.”

She started out as a self-proclaimed “music major wanna-be.” Her friend, Nick Sorum, “the big brother of the music department,” ended his life in 2008.

After his passing, she realized how much she looked forward to seeing him, just hanging out in the music department.

“Wow, if I were to commit suicide I would be hurting more people than I realize,” she said.

He barely knew me, I barely knew him, “but it rocked my world.”

When her friend Colin Staley died in Washington, they spread his ashes underneath a tree and stood there a long time with her friends.

“It’s really hard to leave those moments, because then you know they’re really gone.”

Friends on both sides of Howe took her hands and walked a tear-filled mile back to their parked vehicle.

“That was one of the moments connecting the wires to other hearts,” Howe said, relating the experience to her finished artwork.

Then, once her friend Jason Bourne took his life earlier this year, she decided to make an art piece to process her emotions.

At some point she realized that “this would be something bigger than just my need to express my grief.” It’s to help other people process their grief or at least understand what it’s like for someone to go through the experience of losing someone, she said.

The event begins at 2 p.m., refreshments will be provided and one of Howe’s friends who lost a brother to suicide, is baking his favorite type of cookies.

A table with resources for help with depression and suicide prevention will be set up.

The UAF Counseling and Health Center and the UAF Psychology Department Clinic will provide handouts and brochures. There will be plenty of people to talk to, said Howe.

The event will also feature artwork from all three of her friends: a self portrait poem by Staley, drawings by Sorum and lyrics and artwork by Jason Bourne.

To beat her depression she said, “In the beginning I had to start living for the sake of other people.”

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