Stefanie Kaufman ’17 was a typical teenager until the day her friend Brittany committed suicide. Here she talks about her work creating Project LETS, a suicide prevention organization focused on erasing the stigma around mental health and self harm.
“Some students want to come to a professional who’s been trained in the mental health profession, and some feel more comfortable going to peers. It has to do with who the student is going to go to. Peers understand peers in a way that staff will not.
Waverley Y. He ’18 added that while last year, most delegates were already affiliated with peer counseling groups, this year’s delegates attended largely out of personal interest.“I think because of that, people are going to be more invested in carrying the work forward than individual advocates, coming together as a team. I feel more confident that more action will come out of this year’s conference,” He said.
During the conference, students were able to attend a series of workshops covering topics like structural racism and interpersonal violence and trauma, according to the conference’s website. “We wanted (the workshops) to be about specific topics that we know to be really close and important to students but not (regularly discussed),” said Stefanie Kaufman ’17, founder of Project LETS and co-organizer of the conference. “We know that racism is a problem … and that it’s connected to (worsening) mental illness, but what are we doing (to stop) that?”
Stefanie created Project LETS as a way to help her and others in her community heal after the loss of a friend from suicide. Currently, Project LETS is working to get the BP Act passed, which would require teachers, administrators, counselors, and specialists who work with students in middle and high school to undergo suicide prevention training. As she works to effect change in her own back yard, Stefanie already has her eyes set on bringing awareness of these issues to global communities.
"It is important to remember that these institutions were treated for white, heterosexual, cis, men. When a system was not designed for you, even with accommodations, privilege is still ingrained in the structure itself. Project LETS also exists as a chapter on campus, and we have seen that uniting as a group allows individuals with mental illness to affect structural change — making others aware of systemic oppression and erasure of our narratives, and to enact solutions to these institutional injustices"
So now I’m here, “in recovery,” but really just relearning who I am and who I want to be, while reintroducing myself to my family and my friends. I’m going places and doing things I couldn’t have envisioned before. But my brain is hard-wired to prepare for the worst, to expect nothing can be as great as this new life seems. This condition and I are fundamentally intertwined. I’ve suffocated it for now, but it constantly tries to reignite itself. That leaves me here trying to merge my old life with my new one — and it’s harder than it seems.
In 2009, an East Meadow High School freshman named Brittany Petrocca lost her battle with mental illness and committed suicide. Kaufman said she was friendly with Petrocca, and they shared mutual friends. Petrocca’s death had a great impact on Kaufman, and after attending her wake and talking with her friends, she decided that suicide prevention was something that needed more attention. “I’ve seen the after-effects of a suicide, and I know what it does to a community."
Brian Matusovsky ’19, another attendee and Mind Matters member, cited Brown’s Project LETS as a model for potential programs at Yale. LETS, which hosted the conference, runs educational workshops focusing on topics ranging from eating disorders to depression and anxiety, and pairs students with mentors who have lived with the same diagnosis.