Iowa City West student launches suicide prevention nonprofit after friend dies

Iowa City West senior Abbey Schley started the I’m Glad You Stayed program, a non-profit suicide prevention organization, after losing her friend to suicide a year ago.

Nikki Pinter, Dottie Schley and Abbey Schley pose for a portrait at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 19, 2022. Abbey Schley started an organization known as the I’m Glad You Stayed Project, which raises awareness of the teenage suicide. The project was created in loving memory of Dylan Salge.

Editor’s note: This report contains descriptions of suicide.

Abbey Schley, a senior in Iowa City West, started a suicide prevention nonprofit after not knowing what to do when her friend, Dylan Salge, texted her in a moment of crisis in March 2021.

Schley said after receiving the message, she told her mother what was going on. His mother then called the non-emergency line to inform the police of what was happening.

“I realized the night we lost him, I had no idea what you’re supposed to do for someone who’s struggling with suicidal thoughts,” she said. “And I had no resources.”

After losing her friend to suicide and hearing about another suicide in the area, she said people were deciding enough was enough.

She said the I’m Glad You Stayed project was designed to give people resources to know what to do when a friend or loved one has suicidal thoughts.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide was the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 24 in 2019.

The program distributed wristbands with suicide prevention resources, as well as pamphlets, encouraging people to know the contact details and addresses of their friends’ families, especially their parents or guardians.

Micki Salge, Dylan’s mother and treasurer of the I’m Glad You Stayed project, said that because they moved to Iowa City shortly before COVID-19, she never had the chance to meet many Dylan’s friends.

Because of this, she says, when Dylan messaged his friends, letting them know he was having suicidal thoughts, they were unable to contact his family.

“The kids getting these messages only knew we lived in Iowa City,” she said, “They didn’t know where we lived. They didn’t know who we were. They didn’t have my phone number. They had none of that information.

Schley said publicizing the program hasn’t always been easy because schools are still hesitant to talk about suicide. She said while schools were doing better at educating students about mental health, they were still not doing enough.

“When Dylan died, we didn’t even have bereavement counselors at school,” she said, “We go to these events and bring our brochures and our wristbands and the kids literally say, ‘Thank you. a lot to have done that, because no one else does. Nobody else is talking about it, and it will continue if we don’t talk about it.

Dottie Schley, secretary and founding member of the I’m Glad You Stayed project and Abbey’s mother, said Abbey’s age has helped the charity connect with many teenagers.

“I think the fact that it’s coming from students makes a big difference from the adults in the room trying to talk,” she said.

Dottie also created a film about Dylan’s death titled Consequencesin which Abbey and Micki reflect on Dylan’s death and their experiences with him.

In the film, Micki talked about how Dylan didn’t think he deserved help because other people were in bigger trouble than him.

Abbey said she herself has struggled with mental illness, anxiety and depression, and has been hospitalized twice since Dylan’s death due to suicidal thoughts.

“After Dylan died, I had a lot of guilt,” she said. “I think I will always have questions that I wish I could have answered from him. I think in the first nine months of his departure, I couldn’t bear the fact that I didn’t know the answers.

In early March, another high school student from Johnson County took his own life. Abbey said that over the past month the I’m Glad You Stayed project has grown in popularity.

In addition to the program’s total Instagram followers growing from 200 to more than 1,400, more and more people are requesting wristbands and brochures from the program, she said.

“People are hungry for information,” she said.