Wisconsin Woman Struggled With Her Mental Health for a Decade. Now She Hides ‘Little Hearts’ to Help Others.

By Christina Lorey

October 25, 2022

The tiny crocheted hearts, with encouraging messages attached, are now appearing as far away as Connecticut. Learn how you can join the movement!

Content Warning: This story discusses thoughts of suicide.

ONALASKA, Wis.– Kathleen Jensen started crocheting 15 years ago as a way to keep her hands–and racing mind–busy. Little did she know the simple hobby was about to get her through some of her darkest days.

“For eight years, I wanted to kill myself all day, every day,” she remembered.

Thinking, as it is for many people with a mental health condition, was Kathleen’s Achilles heel. Throughout her 40s and 50s, she battled severe depression, anxiety, PTSD, and thoughts of ending her own life. Thanks to intense support from her husband and therapy, she survived, and by spring of this year found herself in a position of being well enough to help others.

Kathleen in a blue and green scarf assembles hearts with a group of volunteers

That’s when Kathleen decided to make her pastime-turned-passion her defining purpose. And so The Little Heart Project was born

With the help of her graphic designer neighbor, Instagram-savvy daughter, and her own two hands, Kathleen crochets little hearts, attaches encouraging notes, and leaves them around town.  

Each Little Heart Project heart has an inspiring message attached

“Our mission statement is simple,” she told us. “Preventing suicide one heart at a time. The hope is that, by spreading kindness, we can reduce suicides and open up the conversation around mental health.”

In just seven months, The Little Hearts Project has exploded. Kathleen is now routinely asked to share her mental health journey with hundreds of students, doctors, nurses, first responders, and counselors across the state. Recently, while at Viterbo University in La Crosse, a young woman approached her after her speech.

Kathleen connects with someone inspired by her story

“‘Kathleen, last night I almost killed myself,’” she emotionally recalled of the girl’s extraordinarily personal revelation. “She pulled up both of her sleeves and showed me dozens of cuts on both of her forearms, then she said, ‘After spending the morning with you… I feel better.”

“My goal when all of this started was to touch one life, just one,” Kathleen continued. “Boom. Mic drop. My goal had been reached.”

The tags also include The Little Heart Projects social media handles<br>So far theyve appeared as far away as Connecticut

What’s Next? 

Kathleen still works full-time and runs The Little Heart Project as a side hobby. She hopes to secure a grant in the future so she can cut back on her work schedule and build a better work/life balance.

“Two full-time jobs, and only one that pays, is a lot,” she admits.

Kathleen also hopes to continue connecting with people by sharing her story through public speaking engagements.

Kathleen is now regularly asked to share her story with young people at local colleges

How To Help

The Little Heart Project needs you to keep growing!

If you know how to crochet or knit, you’ll easily be able to make these two-inch hearts. Click here for the free pattern.

Not crafty? Email thelittleheartproj@gmail.com if you’d like some hearts to leave around your neighborhood.

Feeling generous? Kathleen’s Venmo is Kathleen-Jensen-68, or click here to learn about other ways to donate to The Little Heart Project

If you or someone you know is still struggling, you can reach the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8 for free, confidential 24/7 support. Click here to learn about your options. 


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.

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