Written by Bradley Bommarito
It’s a sensitive subject, but an important one. Last week was the National Suicide Prevention Week, and September is the National Suicide Prevention Month. According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies, and community members unite each year during this time to promote suicide prevention awareness.
For the fourth year in a row, RC will be hosting an Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention and mental health awareness. The event is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 6 at the Cregger Center, with check-in and registration at 10 a.m. and the walk beginning at 11 a.m. Registration can also be completed online prior to the event.
“In the weeks leading up the event, RC counselors, HEAT, and our Peer Educators work to raise awareness of the event and of suicide by a mix of both active and passive programming. We are currently developing a number of events, including depression screenings and a discussion panel, which will take place during the week before the walk. Details will be coming out on the daily email as well as the Student Health & Counseling Services website,” said Colleen Quigley, a counselor with RC Student Health and Counseling Services.
The statistics on suicide are rather staggering. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), we lose 44,965 Americans to suicide each year. In addition, there are 25 suicide attempts for every death by suicide. According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people in the 10 to 35 age group, behind unintentional injury. Perhaps the most upsetting part of these statistics is that they represent preventable deaths.
“The fact that deaths by suicide are preventable is why we need to be discussing suicide prevention and raising awareness. As we discuss this topic, we need to remember that, odds are, someone we love has been touched by suicide. It is not a ‘they’ problem, it is an ‘us’ problem, and together we can work to solve it,” said Quigley.
There are a number of misconceptions about suicide and suicidal people. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, some of the most common myths and misconceptions are as follows: once someone has decided upon suicide, no one can change their mind and they will always be that way; people who make suicidal statements are seeking attention; talking about it will only encourage them; suicide only affects individuals with a mental health condition; people who die by suicide are selfish and take the easy way out.
“One of the best ways to combat myths is through education and awareness. Knowing the facts demystifies both mental health and suicide. SHCS invites students to view our website and educate themselves about mental health, wellness, and suicide prevention,” said Quigley.
RC takes a very proactive approach to mental health and suicide prevention. Key members of the campus community are specially trained to handle crisis situations.
“RC counselors have been working to educate the RC community on ways to handle mental health challenges and crises. Two of our counselors have become instructors for Mental Health First Aid, and we have trained all of the RAs on campus as well as many members of the faculty and staff,” said Quigley.
RC offers a host of valuable mental health resources as well as resources for mindfulness and stress relief. With so many options, many students have no need to venture off campus when it comes to their mental health needs.
“We are proud to offer a range of mental health resources on campus, which are expanding each year. Currently, we offer traditional counseling services to individuals and couples through our offices in Student Health & Counseling Services (SHCS). We also offer Let’s Talk drop in counseling through our satellite location in The WELL (Alumni 216). This is a great option for people needing a brief consultation or information, including whether counseling might help them. We offer a number of groups, also through the WELL, which offer support and community to individuals in the LGBTQ+ community (RC D.R.I.V.E.) and to individuals struggling with mental health challenges (Love Your Selfie) as well as people wishing to learn about mindfulness and meditation (Just Breathe),” said Quigley.
Sometimes we may notice that a friend is behaving rather unusually, or maybe we see that a loved one is saying worrying things. There are certain “red flags” that may indicate someone is in crisis that one can look out for.
“Red flags that might trigger this conversation include changes in your loved one’s behavior. Maybe they are isolating when they are typically social, they might be increasing their use of substances or hurting themselves, or maybe they just seem more sad than usual. Obviously, someone who is talking about death, dying or suicide would be of concern,” said Quigley.
The people in our lives are not always willing or able to begin talking about and addressing their mental health needs, so it is sometimes necessary to initiate that conversation.
“It’s important to start a conversation, even if it’s awkward. Ask how your friend is doing, if everything is going okay or why they haven’t seemed like themselves lately. A great resource for this is seizetheawkward.org which offers a number of tips as well as a wonderful, light-hearted video illustrating the importance of seizing, rather than avoiding, awkward moments,” said Quigley.
There are several courses of action that may be taken after the conversation is initiated. The appropriate response depends on several factors, such as the urgency and severity of a mental health crisis and the time during which it occurs.
“One option includes notifying the Care Team, if your concerns are not urgent. For urgent or potentially life-threatening concerns, call 911 or Campus Safety at 540.375.2310. You can also offer to help your friend speak to a counselor,” said Quigley. “Let’s Talk is a great option to access a counselor quickly and get immediate feedback. If your friend is not able/willing to attend Let’s Talk, you can help them complete a Counseling Request Form via the SHCS webpage or Form Finder to request an individual appointment with a counselor.”