Paige Hunter remembers hovering over the edge of a bridge three years ago with unsettling clarity. But what she recalls most vividly, she said, are the words of two strangers who stopped her from taking her own life.

“I was going through a lot at the time and dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Hunter, who lives in Sunderland, England.

As she stood perched atop the Wearmouth Bridge on that January evening, two onlookers approached her and said, “You are worth so much more than this,” Hunter, now 21, recalled. “Those words changed my life.”

She gingerly stepped away from the edge and turned toward home. She later thought to herself, “If those words could help me, who else could they help?”

The next day, on several pieces of paper, Hunter wrote down the same words the strangers imparted to her. Then she stuck the notes all over the Wearmouth Bridge.

Since 2018, Hunter has covered the local landmark with more than 1,000 uplifting signs, with the goal of supporting others who are similarly struggling with mental health. Based on messages she’s received from strangers, plus encouragement from local officials, Hunter thinks her notes have helped save dozens of lives.

Over the past three years, Hunter — who was honored by the Northumbria Police in 2018 for her initiative — has spent countless hours crafting handwritten notes on colorful paper, which she laminates and ties around the bridge with string.

She writes encouraging messages like: “Don’t give up. Not now, not tomorrow, not ever,” and “Even though things are difficult, your life matters.” She also includes contact information for mental health resources on each card.

Hunter visits the bridge regularly to ensure that there are always plenty of notes, and she typically replaces them every two weeks — and sometimes more often, depending on the weather.

“It’s definitely therapeutic for me to write these messages,” said Hunter, who recently graduated from East Durham College. “I believe helping other people has helped me tremendously.”

Soon after she started the initiative, which she calls “Notes of Hope,” it circulated on social media and in local news, and Hunter began receiving messages from strangers thanking her for her messages. Some even credited her words of support with saving their lives.

“I’ve received loads of messages from people contacting me to say I’ve helped them,” Hunter said.

That includes Sarah Erica, 25, who was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2014. She came across Hunter’s Notes of Hope in 2018 when she was in a particularly dark place.

Seeing the uplifting messages “gave me hope,” Erica said. “Paige is obviously fighting such a battle. To see someone who has fought through and through every day has given me motivation to want to carry on.”

Whenever she needs reassurance, Erica said, she refers back to Hunter’s notes to remind her that although “I feel alone, I am not alone.”

Callum Doggrell, who nearly took his own life in early 2019, was also touched by Hunter’s notes. He said reading and internalizing one of the messages is what ultimately stopped him.

“I was going through a really rough patch, and I was at a point in my life where I didn’t want to be here anymore,” Doggrell said.

When he came across one of Hunter’s notes, which said, “Pause. Stop. Breathe. There are better options, and so many people who love you,” Doggrell, 25, stepped away from the bridge. “It saved my life,” he said.

“It reminded me that I have a purpose, and sometimes that’s all people need to hear,” Doggrell continued. The note, he said, encouraged him to reflect on his family and those who love him most, including his then-1-year-old son.

Although the note was written by a total stranger, “the messages still speak to anyone in that situation,” he said.

Doggrell reached out to Hunter to thank her, and they’ve remained in touch since.

“She is the kind of person that will deny she has ever done anything to help,” he said. But her notes “brought me back from the edge. What this young woman has done is saved countless lives.”

Local officials vouched for the impact of Hunter’s notes — not just within her own community, but elsewhere in the United Kingdom and around the world, too.

Although it’s not possible to quantify the precise number of lives the notes have saved, “they have made a massive impact. We’ve got many examples of people who have actually turned away from the edge because of these signs,” said Dominic McDonough, a Sunderland councilman.

“You often find when people are in that situation, they will be looking for a sign not to do it,” said McDonough, who also works for If U Care Share Foundation, which aims to prevent suicide and also provides bereavement support.

The notes have been so effective, in fact, that McDonough mobilized to turn them into permanent placards on Wearmouth Bridge — which he said is “very well known” for suicides — as well as on other structures around the city.

McDonough lost a loved one to suicide in 2016 and saw Hunter’s Notes of Hope on social media. He launched a motion at a Sunderland City Council meeting in June 2019 to make the signs a permanent fixture, and the proposal received unanimous backing.

Despite pandemic-related delays, permanent signs created by Hunter and other local artists are expected to be installed by the end of the summer.

“It’s not just going to be standard signs,” McDonough explained. “We want this to be very personal. They’re created by real people, and it’s something that has had a lot of thought put into it.”

In conjunction with helping to prevent suicides, “we hope to get the community involved and get as many people as possible talking about this,” he continued. “Talking about it is key because it reinforces that there is an issue — but also that there is help.”

Hunter’s notes have encouraged people around the world to start similar initiatives, she said, including in the United States.

Cassie Bond, 31, who lives in Spokane, Wash., stumbled upon Hunter’s Notes of Hope on Facebook, and decided to emulate her efforts on the Monroe Street Bridge, which she said is known locally as a suicide bridge.

Like Hunter, Bond has continually placed notes on the bridge for the past several years and started a petition to get permanent placards made. She, too, has received countless messages of gratitude.

“There’s a lot of people who say it’s very helpful and they’re really thankful the notes are up there,” Bond said. “The signs are meant to help people know they’re not alone.”

Hunter said that for her, that’s what the project has always been about.

“I feel really grateful that I’ve been able to help people through my own struggle,” she said. “It’s a feeling you can’t explain.”

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