Colleen Long knew she had to do something when she saw that a study showed Smith County with the highest suicide rate in the state.
The study, conducted by a University of Texas system researcher showed Smith County averaged 17 suicides per 100,000 residents from 2012 to 2016, far above the state average of 12.2. That rate put Smith County as the highest in the state among the 25 most populous counties.
Long created the Mindfulness Triathlon last year to bring awareness to mental health issues and remove the stigma some have about asking for help. This year she wanted to spread a message of hope on World Suicide Prevention Day, and found the perfect way to deliver that message.
“I love our city, and that statistic is alarming,” Long said. “I want to be a part of the change. I want to change that statistic for the better.”
After seeing artist Nicole Leth discuss her work on a billboard, Long reached out and asked to use the art on a digital billboard in Tyler on West Southwest Loop 323 near Yamato Japanese Steak House and Hibachi.
The digital billboard offers words of affirmation to commuters. It reads “You are human, You are loveable, You are strong, You are enough.”
Long hopes to keep the art up as long as possible, and wants to encourage others to share photos of themselves with it, using the hashtag #YouAreLovedTylerTexas
“I wanted people that are hurting to see that they’re loved,” she said.