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New billboards aimed at tackling the suicide problem in Utah

UTAH COUNTY – You may have seen the electronic billboards along I-15 saying, “You Are Loved” and “You Are Beautiful.”  The signs’ creator says, yes, the message is aimed at you.  He’s trying to slow the number of suicides that could be linked to social media.

Along with the positive messages, the words “In Memory of Whitney” appear on the billboard.  The campaign’s creator, Collin Kartchner, says he was inspired to make the billboards after hearing of the death of the daughter of a family friend.  “She was spending all day scrolling through people’s photos and ‘lives of perfection’ and she started getting really depressed. It really affected her negatively.  It led to self-harming.  It led to depression,” he says.

Kartchner believes we’re living in a “Toxic Culture of Perfection” in which people are always judging themselves against the seemingly perfect lives of other people we see online.  He says photos of beautiful faces, fit bodies and lavish vacations have a ripple effect among viewers, even if the person posting them never intended to harm anyone.  “I don’t think anyone who is producing content on any of these social media feeds had any intention of saying, ‘I’m doing this to make people feel bad,’” he says.

He began asking for donations on his Instagram feed, and his request went viral.  “We raised $3,000 in nine minutes,” Kartchner says, which covered the cost of the billboards.  Eventually, he raised a lot more than that, so, he’s donating to groups like HOPE4UTAH, and their Hope Squads that teach children to spot potential signs of suicidal thoughts in other kids.

He hopes this message of love and support spreads outside of the state, and it seems like it will.  “The cool thing is that other states are joining in.  People in California, Arizona, and Texas are saying, ’We’re doing the same thing.’  We want to get these billboard messages up,” according to Kartchner.