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Painting positivity in dark places

Student to paint inspirational messages in school bathroom

MALIA PAULINO, “A bathroom can be a positive place”

Over the years, restrooms have been a place of refuge for Lahainaluna High School student Malia Paulino when suffering from depression and anxiety.

Now, the senior wants bathrooms to be a place of hope and inspiration for other students who may be struggling with similar challenges.

Paulino’s project this weekend will gather more than 45 volunteers to paint positive messages on bathroom doors at Lahainaluna. Using donated Ameritone paint and other materials, students are rallying together to spark hope in what can otherwise be a “dark and dingy” space.

“A bathroom can be a positive place,” Paulino said Friday. “You can look up and read inspirational motivations and feel better.”

Depression and anxiety are often difficult to discuss. However, many youths suffer from mental health challenges, and by opening up about her own story, peers can see they’re not alone, Paulino said.

Lahainaluna High senior Malia Paulino cleans and preps the school bathrooms Friday ahead of this weekend’s project where nearly 50 volunteers will paint positive words and pictures in stalls. -- SOPHIA SOBEL photo

“I think other students can relate,” she said. “It helps to get the word out there that it’s normal to be anxious and depressed, and there is help out there.”

In one recent study, 30 percent of 1,555 Hawaii students surveyed reported feeling sad or hopeless almost daily for two or more weeks, so much so that they stopped doing normal activities, according to a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

Paulino, who said she’s passionate about mental health advocacy, said support and therapy have helped diminish her depression. But anxiety still arises from time to time.

“When I do have an anxiety attack, I will flee to the bathroom because everything is so loud and happening at once,” she said. “I found that if I stay in a dark and outdated, dingy bathroom, it doesn’t add anything positive to my mood. But if I surround myself with a more colorful, positive, bright environment, it does change how I feel.”

That’s why positive paintings in the school’s bathroom made sense, she said. The idea came from a combination of things.

During the summer before her sophomore year, Paulino attended youth leadership and business summits. She would wake up “extra early,” go the the bathrooms and write temporary inspirational messages, such as “You’re beautiful” or “Smile,” on mirrors with dry erase markers.

“People would freak out over it and say it’s such a good idea,” she said.

More recently, Paulino saw a social media post where a student painted bathroom stalls various colors.

“I thought that would be such a cool idea,” she said. “I kind of morphed the two.”

The student said her high school staff members and mentors liked her idea; the plan, which she hopes will be employed at other schools, became her senior project.

Using social media to gather peer volunteers and business letters to generate material donations, Paulino said she was pleasantly surprised with the support.

“It’s so cool to have the community involved,” she said. “I was surprised with the response that I got; a lot of people were very excited to participate.”

On Friday, Paulino was gathering last-minute materials to clean and prime the restroom doors. Today and Sunday, students plan to paint motivational sayings and images.

The senior said she wants messages of ethnic diversity, unity and empowering one another, along with emphasizing self-worth and acceptance. Specific phrases have yet to be decided by a lead student artist, Paulino said.

Most of all, Paulino said, she hopes people who are struggling know that they’re not alone and help is available.

“There is help out there no matter what,” she said. “You are loved. You are supported. If you don’t think anyone supports you, then I do.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.