Psychology Major Uses Personal Struggle to Help Others Cope
You are not alone.
If there’s one thing senior psychology major Nicole Vana wants people to know, you are never alone.
Vana thought differently when she was a 17-year-old dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts.
“I felt like I was the only one, the only one who was struggling, the only one who was going through what I was going through,” she says in a video shared with her 111,000 Twitter followers.
That scared 17-year-old created a Twitter account called “Stronger Than Suicide” that became her coping mechanism for connecting with others across the world who might feel the same loneliness that she was feeling. Soon others were tweeting that her Twitter account gave them hope — which gave Vana hope.
"I saw how much mental illness affects people, so I wanted to help others and let them know I'm here," said Vana.
She renamed her Twitter account “Spreading The Love” to align with her passion to help others cope. That account led to a website of the same name with the goal of reducing the social stigma surrounding mental health and offering social support to those struggling with mental health and suicidal thoughts. In April 2017, she turned her work into a 501c3 nonprofit.
"I really wanted the site to become more than just an online movement,” she said. “I wanted to start to make a real change in the world and I feel as though transforming it into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit has given me that opportunity and is a starting point."
Today her nonprofit has over 100,000 supporters.
Vana hasn't let her actions stop there. Now she’s developing a phone app called MyPals in an effort to expand her reach and help more people who are struggling. The app will connect those who are struggling with important resources like counseling services, others who are struggling, and others who aren't but who want to help—all via an accessible tools to provide emotional support and relief.
"The goal is to provide a community for people who are struggling," Vana said. "Talking to people can be such a powerful tool. This app is just to fuel those connections."
Vana is working on the MyPals app with a developer in Omaha, Neb., and is raising funds to make it possible. Though the process has been long, the young humanitarian remains hopeful and inspired, seeing how her efforts have already helped others.
"I've received messages from people saying, 'You've saved my life.' I try to respond to as many as those as I can, because when people share that, it means a lot," said Vana. "It's sonice to know you're making a difference and touching the lives of others."
Vana says her personal experiences combined with what she’s learned in her psychology classes have given her the understanding to create a safe and helpful world for those who are struggling with mental illness.
To learn more about Spreading the Love, Inc., visit www.spreadingthelove.usor follow on Twitter at @Spreading_L0ve
—Story by Quinn Hullett, public relations intern.