by Dustin Jayroe // Photography by Jamison Mosley

Cal McCastlain, Jr., took his life in 2014, as a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Mississippi. Now, his brother, William, having faced his own mental health adversities, is determined to raise awareness and assist with suicide prevention.

William was 17-years-old when his family got the call they could have never expected. His brother and best friend, Cal, had died of suicide. 

“The last time I saw him was Easter weekend, literally the week before he committed suicide. He was perfectly fine – did not give out any worrying signs or anything. We thought everything was going well,” he recalls. 

William found himself caught in the middle of processing what happened, grieving this loss and feeling compelled to do something that felt positive. From those complicated emotions came the 3People4Life campaign. 

“Because I did not know how to process it or deal with it, my family and I came up with the idea to start a campaign and push for mental health awareness and raise money,” William says.

With help from his youth pastor at the time, the Rev. Jay Clark of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church in Little Rock, 3People4Life was created. The campaign is founded upon an idea that everyone should have someone that he or she can count on in times of hardship. The “3people” is part of a mission, an action call to write down the names and numbers of at least three people who you know are available in times of struggle. This list of people are not only tools available for emotional support, but the list itself serves as a reminder that you are never alone. 

To raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and awareness of the campaign, William designed wristbands for people to buy and wear as daily reminders. These tribute bracelets featured the campaign’s namesake, “#3People4Life,” and featured a variety of colors, including some in Catholic High’s purple and gold, in honor of Cal, who was an alumnus of the school.

McCastlain

William McCastlain and his family push for mental health awareness with the 3PEOPLE4LIFE campaign.

William and his support team also mailed out letters to everyone they knew, explaining what had happened, what they were doing with the campaign, how prevalent suicide and mental health problems are and how important raising awareness is. At the bottom of each letter was an invitation for the recipient to donate to the cause. 

“We got so many checks in the mail; it was really phenomenal to see a community come together and help us through that,” William gratefully recalls. 

What started as humble beginnings with modest goals quickly turned into something much bigger than William could have imagined. 

They blasted through their original goal of $10,000 in about a week. To date, more than $25,000 has been raised directly from the 3People4Life campaign, all of which has gone to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) – half of the proceeds going to the Arkansas chapter with the other half to the national organization. 

In 2015, the AFSP distributed three suicide-related programs to every junior, middle and high school in the state of Arkansas. They are the After Suicide Toolkit for Schools, the Model School District Policy for Suicide Prevention and the More Than Sad program that helps teens, educators and parents become aware of the signs of depression. That year, all three of these programs were delivered to private schools through the 3People4Life campaign funds.

William was honored as a recipient of the Marie Interfaith Civic Leadership Award in 2016 for his efforts toward awareness and prevention of suicide as the founder of 3People4Life. The Marie Award recognizes Arkansans who contribute to the advancement of the public interest via interfaith engagement and civic leadership.

Temporary relief was found through these successes and feelings of accomplishment. While the linings will never quite be silver, sometimes just a little bit of color can make a world of difference. 

But, as William recounts, everything in those immediate months and couple of years after Cal’s death was a preoccupation to help with coping in the short term. When these reprieves went away, the true challenge emerged.

“I never really dealt with my brother’s death; I just put all of my effort into school, sports, the 3People4Life campaign and my girlfriend, who I had been dating since freshman year of high school. She passed away at the end of my freshman year of college. I tried to come back to school my sophomore year, but I was not ready,” William says.

While in high school at Episcopal Collegiate School in Little Rock, William was incredibly active. He served as the soccer team captain his junior and senior years, football team captain his senior year, as well as class president during his senior year. There were enough mediums of refuge to stay busy. When he moved on to attend Vanderbilt University, most of those outlets remained behind. After another unfortunate and untimely death of a loved one, he began to realize that he was in the midst of a mental health battle of his own. 

After a couple more repetitions of going back to college, then leaving to take more time, he found himself stuck in a cycle and knew that he needed to get the help that he deserved. He enlisted into a rehabilitation center that focused on psychological and mental health issues. 

“I was basically drinking as an outlet for my depression,” William says. 

“I came back to school last spring and was sober all of that semester,” he proudly recollects. “I knew that my education and coming back to school were more important for me than anything I could be doing on any given night. Now, I am back to just being a regular college student.” 

His self-identifying label of being a “regular college student” may be a bit too modest, as he is much more than that. 

William served as treasurer of Active Minds at Vanderbilt his sophomore year. The group is a student-run organization that works to change the stigma that surrounds depression and mental health disorders. 

“Being at such an academically rigorous institution, mental health is a relevant topic, and they push it a lot. I try to get engaged on campus with that as much as I can,” William says. “I do what I can to try and share my story. If I can help just one person, that is a job well done. That’s the goal.” 

While at Vanderbilt, William has brought 3People4Life with him; not necessarily in name, but in practice. He makes it clear to friends in his circle, and other students that he engages with on campus, that he is available as an outlet if they need him. Many have taken him up on his offer, whether while going through something serious or just needing someone to talk to for a few minutes. 

William is majoring in human and organizational development with a minor in corporate strategy. He is set to graduate in May 2020. 

In 2014, William told the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette after his brother’s suicide, “Everything is still unanswered, and I think that is the way it is going to stay.” Today, five years later, he feels the same way, and that this will always stand true. After spending countless hours replaying moments in his head, text exchanges and conversations, William still comes back to the same conclusion. 

“There really is not an answer,” William says. “But, at this point, I have finally come to peace with that statement.”  

William McCastlain’s advocacy, strength and resolve may be looked to as inspiration. Adopt the philosophies of 3People4Life. Make a list for yourself, and make sure that you are on someone else’s. 

James Calman “Cal” McCastlain, Jr. was born on June 17, 1994, and died on April 25, 2014. He is survived by his dad, Cal Sr.; his mom, Heather; brother, William; sister, Margeaux; and half-brother, Beau. All love him unconditionally and miss him dearly.