Philly mural, website aim to launch a dialogue about suicide

An average of 101 Americans commit suicide every day, according to the Foundation for Suicide Prevention. And despite widespread occurrence, experts say it remains an issue most people avoid talking about.

Philadelphia is hoping to start a conversation with a bucket of paint and click of the mouse.

In the center of the city’s newest Mural Arts Program painting is a faceless man. He’s perched anxiously on a small rowboat, rocking in a tumultuous sea. On the shore a young boy throws him a life line. Encircling them both is an impossibly long quilt stitched by dozens of people stretching along the shoreline.

The grand façade painted on the Horizon House at 30th and Chestnut streets is called “Finding the Light Within.” James Burns, the lead artist on the project, says the message is simple.

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“During times of crisis there is a community of people who care, and there is help available,” he says.

And while the mural may inspire passers-by to reconsider their place within that community, its creators were well aware of the mural’s geographic limitations. That’s when the idea of a website came to them — a place where everyone could share their experiences with suicide.

Jonathan Singer, a Temple University professor who specializes in the societal impacts of suicide, advised the city’s department of behavioral health on the project.

“When you go to the website, you can read about people who survived, people who worked through,” said Singer. “These are very painful, heartbreaking but hopeful stories. So at two in the morning, when you’re suicidal or you’re so grief stricken over the death of your son who died by suicide 20 years ago, you can go and find community.”

All are invited to join that online community.

After its unveiling Saturday, the mural is now on view.


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