AUSTIN, Texas -- Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for adults and the second leading cause of death for teenagers.
But what if something as simple as a letter could change that?
That’s the mission of Pens for Pals: to reach out to someone who is struggling and let them know there is someone who cares, someone to talk to.
Austin resident Tiffany Lewis-Castillo started Pens for Pals after 10 of her own friends took their own lives in less than 10 months.
She realized there was a common problem among those close to her who felt they had no other choice.
"They feel alone, they feel isolated, and they feel like they're not allowed to talk about certain things,” said Lewis.
She has experienced a lot of pain and trauma in her own life, so Lewis wanted to give people a safe way to discuss what they’re going through and how they’re feeling.
Often, she receives people’s names and addresses anonymously or through Facebook, email and Twitter.
She makes it her goal to write one letter a week to each person. Already, she has close to 500 children and adults on her list.
"We write them every single week whether they write back or not,” said Lewis. She also sends a care package with the first letter. Inside is a bracelet and a “safe card” to hand to someone if you need to talk. These are targeted toward children who may be suffering from abuse.
In each letter, Lewis writes a similar affirmation. "They have to say the same things: I am here for you, I love you, stay strong."
Already, Lewis says she is hearing from the people she serves that the letters are making a difference. One teenage girl she writes to has told Lewis she stopped cutting herself after receiving the letters.
"I hear this all the time, you've saved my life, you've saved my life,” said Lewis. "The stability of knowing that that letter is going to come every single week and you have something to look forward to, even if you never write me back."
Another Austin woman working to prevent suicides is Karen Ranus, the executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, in Austin.
"About 6 and a half years ago now, I almost lost my then 18-year-old daughter to suicide,” explained Ranus.
Since then, she’s made it her goal to help other people who are struggling in silence "so that young people and older people like my daughter don't have to feel like they're isolated."
That’s the key, she says, to helping prevent suicide: it’s making a connection with someone so they don’t feel isolated and alone.
To learn more about how to spot signs of suicide and how to get help, click here.
If you or someone you know is struggling, Lewis would like to help. You can call her at 512-496-5830 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Pens for Pals, click here.
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