The first time a teenager handed Robb Nash a suicide note was five years ago.
A principal called the Winnipeg-based musician to give a talk at a school where a student had recently taken their life. The student’s note mentioned a suicide pact, so Nash arrived knowing teens in the audience could be contemplating suicide themselves.
It’s a place Nash had been himself. After barely surviving a car crash as a teen, he was forced to stop playing the sports he loved. It was a devastating blow.
“I was in this really dark place emotionally where I didn’t want to be alive,” he said. “Everything you had planned out in life was stripped away.”
He shared his story with the school that day, telling the students how he pushed through his own dark thoughts.
“After the show this girl came up and handed me her suicide note. She was planning to take her life that weekend,” Nash told BuzzFeed Canada. She didn’t need the note anymore.
Now, he’s collected 535 notes along with razor blades, bullets, and countless promises from the young people he talks to that they’ll stop self-injuring or using drugs.
Nash travels around to schools, detention centres, and First Nations talking to youth about mental health, suicide, substance abuse, bullying, and finding hope even when things feel hopeless.
And as much as he touched the lives of thousands of students, they’ve had an impact on him, too.
Nash has tattooed the signatures from 120 of the suicide notes he’s received on his right arm. “It’s so moving to me to think, wow, these kids think I’m that big a part of their life and their story,” he said. The tattoos show that they’re a part of his life, too.
The tattoos have now become part of his message to kids, a reminder that they’re not alone.
“I point at my hand and say, ‘Look at my arm. These kids had the same thoughts as you, and they’re still here.’”
Twice now, students at schools he’s revisited have found their names on his arm.
He doesn’t keep all the suicide notes he gets, passing some along to councillors to make sure students get the support they need after he leaves.
“They’re carrying [the notes] around waiting for something to push them over the edge or tell them it’s going be okay,” he said.
“I want to tell my story so people don’t have to die before they decide they want to live.”