by Patrick Ronan, ’16



When Brittany Hawley, a sociology and psychology major from Milwaukee, received her assignment for a semester-long project for her Social Hacktivism class in fall 2015, she knew immediately what to focus on – the stigmatization of mental health issues. Hawley’s project, “It’s Time to Talk About Mental Illness Because…” culminated in a video compilation of photos of nearly 200 people holding signs completing that phrase. 



Finishing the project and contributing to the mental health advocacy community felt satisfying enough for Hawley, so she never anticipated the accolades and media attention that followed.


Since completing “It’s Time,” Hawley received a Campus Compact 2016 Newman Civic Fellows Award, which “honors inspiring college student leaders who have demonstrated an investment in finding solutions for challenges facing communities throughout the country.” She also appeared in “Mind Matters: An exploration of the mental health issues that affect more than a million Wisconsinites,” the cover story of the February 2016 edition of Milwaukee Magazine.



In spring 2016, Hawley launched her second project, “I Hear You: A Message to the Ones Who Struggle with Suicide." She asked more than 200 participants to answer the question, “If a few words meant that a life could be saved, would you say them?”



After Hawley completed the project in April, she made time to sit down with me to answer a few questions and provided a behind-the-scenes glimpse at her work.


What is “I Hear You?” 
“I Hear You” is a mini-movement and project about suicide. It began as a semester-long project for a sociology course, but I view it as much more. “I Hear You” is a hopeful message for those struggling; an opportunity to educate students, faculty and staff about suicide prevention through Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) trainings, and a way to encourage people to consider what they might say to someone in a crisis situation.


What inspired you to create this movement? 
Last semester I did a project called “It’s Time to Talk About Mental Illness Because…” – this is the sequel. I’m passionate about mental health. I’m going to work in the mental health field, and I know many people who have struggled, including myself. I call this the sequel because the first part was stating why we should talk about these things for so many different reasons, including ending the stigma associated with mental illness. If we end the stigma, more people will get help. Many people who struggle with mental illness have suicidal thoughts. Since that is truly a life-or-death situation, it’s important to address it and learn about prevention. I want to raise awareness and get people thinking about these issues.


How is “I Hear You” unique?  
This project is different because, sadly, there aren’t a lot of people talking about mental health issues or mental health in general. I want this project to leave a lasting impression, for people to educate themselves, to learn, and to talk about things that are currently stigmatized. I’m not just asking my friends to participate, I’m asking friends, professors I do or do not know, University administration, and some prominent people in the Milwaukee community. Also, I want people to be heard through photos –  to have a voice and to be advocates for those who don’t have a voice. This project isn’t about me; it’s about us as a community supporting one another.


What have you learned from doing “I Hear You”? 
I’ve learned that there are so many people out there willing to listen to those struggling. I’ve learned and heard people’s stories who I would never have guessed struggled with thoughts of suicide. I’ve heard and learned that people are grateful that these issues are being addressed. And, most importantly, I’ve learned that there are caring people, people who are ready to help you, even if you don’t say anything. Compassion and kindness are huge, and seeing the love put into this project from others is something I’ll definitely take away.


Do you have any specific plans to launch “I Hear You?” 
When it is finished, I will be sending it to faculty and staff members at Stritch. I will post the link on social media, and I’m hoping every participant will share it. My goal is to get this out to the broader community to remind people that they truly are never alone, no matter what their thoughts are telling them. And I still hope that additional conversations will occur. In the end, I hope people will get the help they need or at least know it is okay to reach out.


Has “I Hear You” inspired any future project ideas? 
I get this question a lot. I am thinking of doing a trilogy, with the last project being about recovery. Or I might just choose a whole new social justice issue and start a project on that. I’m not entirely sure yet. Between this project and “It’s Time,” I have seriously considered starting a non-profit surrounding mental health. We will see!