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Teen suicide prevention with Children Action and a labyrinth of love

This year, Children Action, a foundation helping children around the globe, pursued its partnership with MALATAVIE (a suicide prevention initiative) and HUG (the University Hospitals of Geneva, in Switzerland) to bring to life a one-of-a-kind exhibit around teen suicide prevention.

Teen suicide is one of the primary causes of death among youth around the world, and the past year did nothing to alleviate the weight of the matter, if not make it worse. Indeed, confinement, isolation, and loss made those who were already most fragile subject to the biggest repercussions.

An immersive experience to prevent teen suicides

children action
Labyrinth exterior, Parc de la Grange, Geneva, Switzerland

Named after a play on the word “adolescence” – “Ado-les-sens” (teen senses) – the installation offers an immersive experience exploring the deepest aspects of teenage life and behavior from love to suicidal thoughts.

It is a literal labyrinth with facades rising 10 feet above the ground and covering a 3,230 square feet surface. Temporarily built in the Parc de la Grange (yes, the same one where Biden and Putin met), in Geneva, Switzerland, the exhibit allows for and encourages visitors to learn about adolescent mental health while getting lost within its walls.

Why the labyrinth ?

During the inaugural press conference, Professor Ansermet, former head of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Department of HUG, used the concept of the labyrinth as a description for the intricacies of the self.

He explained that for each and everyone of us to have our own complex journey is more valuable than a straight line; in the long run, it will reveal itself more fitting than a ready-made path set by society. “To each their own labyrinth,” he stated, “both external and internal.”

Featuring artworks by graphic design students, as well as by adolescents in recovery following suicide attempts, the labyrinth emphasises the use of creativity as an exit, as a way out and away from pain and suffering.

teen suicide prevention
Mural by Swiss painter Jazi in collaboration with teens in recovery

Having young artists and students produce this work in honor of other adolescents contributes to the idea of reintegration of those already struggling back into society.

This emphasizes the particular sensibility that transpires through such a project. Showcasing creativity as an outlet, the exhibit supports the importance of cohesion between art, science, culture, and wellbeing.

children action teen suicide prevention

Losing oneself to find ourselves

Indeed, creativity does not come short in this collection of thoughts, exercises, and experiences. Confronting visitors to concepts that might be uncomfortable highlights the idea that conflict will often lead to valuable questions rather than dead ends.

When wandering through the exhibition, one may find themselves stuck, only to turn around and continue their colorful journey through it.

Dare to lose oneself,
Dare to make mistakes,
To find yourself.

Professor Ansermet

Finding one’s path is in a way inventing one’s self. Recovery begins with allowing youth to be the actor of their own stories and most importantly their authors.

Encouraging visitors’ participation and engagement with the matter, the installation includes self-led activities seeking to deepen our perception and understanding of complex feelings encountered through adolescence and life in general.

Some spaces invite us to share personal experiences, such as a wall that reads “to myself when I was 16,” asking visitors to leave an individual post-it note. Those contribute to individuals coming together, to create a sense of community, and ultimately feel less alone in the midst of our differences.

A way up and out for teen suicide prevention

Bernard Sabrier, founder of Children Action, further developed the metaphor behind the labyrinth explaining that to find the exit (from pain, sorrow, hurt), one requires a guiding thread towards the outside world. One needs to re-establish broken links with family, school, and the self.

“We build our relationship to the self alongside our relationships to others,” explained Christina Kitsos, head of social cohesion in the city of Geneva. It is one of the main reasons this past year was so problematic and destructive for teenagers who already struggled mentally and socially.

Today, Children Action, MALATAVIE, and HUG, continue to work together in an attempt to unwind that thread and guide adolescents towards a better way out.

Fighting missed preconceptions and destigmatizing the need for help are essential in preventing fatal self-harm. Making an experience such as this one a part of the city and available to all is something our world needs more of.

Indeed, the conversation for teen suicide prevention starts with exhibits like these.

It starts with communication, openness, and the courage to engage. It begins here, with us.

Explore the ADO-LES-SENS labyrinth in more depth here.

  • National Suicide Lifeline: +1-800-273-8255
  • MALATAVIE: +41 22 372 42 42