Hope Happens: Planting Tulips, Smashing Stigma

Hope Happens: Planting Tulips, Smashing Stigma

Written by Nikki Symanovich, featuring Julia Hansen

Julia Hansen (left), founder of The Yellow Tulip Project with Nikki Symanovich, president of Narratives of Hope.

Julia Hansen (left), founder of The Yellow Tulip Project with Nikki Symanovich, president of Narratives of Hope.

A week ago, I found myself sitting across from the incredible Julia Hansen, deep in conversation, connecting over coffee and sharing our personal mental health journeys. We’ve both created small, youth-led mental health nonprofit organizations that stemmed from experiences with suicide loss and which emphasize the power of hope. While we quickly realized how closely our organizations’ missions aligned, what struck me most about meeting Julia was just how comfortable and accepted I immediately felt in her presence. The moment we met, she lit up and wrapped me in the warmest hug. We started sharing our stories, our experiences with loss, our own struggles, and how we found hope, and I’m confident we would’ve been able to find something to talk about all day if we’d had the time. I am endlessly grateful that there are people out there like Julia who radiate kindness and light and make you feel like you are utterly enough, always.

Julia and I are all about collaborating to smash the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide, so I would like to take this opportunity to share Julia’s journey and the powerful work she’s doing with The Yellow Tulip Project. I encourage you to get involved with her amazing organization and I look forward to sharing what we team up to do together this year!

Over to Julia:


During my sophomore year of high school I lost my two best friends to suicide while struggling with my own levels of depression. I was living silently with my struggles due to the intense stigma associated with mental illness but luckily was able to speak up and get the help I need. Amidst grief and darkness, I was able to still find beauty and hope in the world and wanted to share that with others. Because of this, I created The Yellow Tulip Project, a 501c3 nonprofit aimed at de-stigmatizing mental illness, bringing hope and light into peoples lives, building community and helping others know it is okay to not be okay. Yellow was one friend’s favorite color while the tulip was another’s favorite flower, so for me it is a perfect combination of my two friends’ lives. Our mission is to smash the stigma surrounding mental illness and to build a community of people who realize that hope happens when youth and community leaders work together. We hope that someday mental illness will be as normal to talk about as any physical illness, and we are fiercely dedicated to making this goal a reality. Here’s a snapshot as to how we do this:

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  • We’re planting Hope Gardens at schools and community organizations in the fall and welcoming the tulips in the spring. These communal events bring people together and provide a space for conversations about mental health.

  • We’re building a network of passionate ambassadors to represent The Yellow Tulip Project in schools around the country. Dedicated youth ambassadors are given leadership positions in our 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We have found that empowering youth in this way is the best way to leverage youth voices and to get our message out. 

  • We’re taking on stigma with the I Am More: Facing Stigma photography exhibit. This exhibit features powerful black and white portraits of people who are struggling with mental illness. Accompanying each photograph are artist statements aimed at  challenging our assumptions of what mental illness “looks like.”

We currently have over 120 youth ambassadors all over the country and spreading abroad. Mental illness and suicide is a silent epidemic in society. Even with 1/5 individuals struggling with some form of mental illness, we do not talk about it and continue to push it aside. This only perpetuates the stigma, preventing others from getting the help they may so desperately need. I want to change the way we address mental illness and inform people that suicide should never be the way out. We talk about broken bones and head aches but there mere thought of talking about mental illness makes people run far and fast. Through The Yellow Tulip Project we are bringing this topic into the light by active conversations and recognition of mental illness in high schools and communities. Life can be extremely dark at times but it is SO crucial to always hold onto hope and to know that although it may be hiding at times, but it is always there.  It is okay to not be okay. You are not alone. You are not a burden. You are more than your mental health challenge. 

All the above photos are courtesy of The Yellow Tulip Project.

April 28, 2016 — The Yellow Tulip Project was launched and from that day on, we have seen immense support and active voices reaching out to share their stories. This is a youth-led and driven organization. We are done being silent and having this topic pushed under the rug. Because of this, we are speaking up to smash the stigma and remind others there is help and hope out there.