You are not alone
UB community unites to encourage students during National Suicide Awareness Week
Published: Thursday, September 12, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 12, 2013 22:09
Alfonso Valdivieso woke up abruptly in the middle of the night on May 8 to the sound of his mother’s footsteps rushing through the hall on the first floor of their home in Coram, N.Y.
She was on her way to find out who was knocking so intensely on the front door so late at night. But Valdivieso rushed out of bed and beat her to the door. When he did, he found two officers standing before him.
“Do you know Larry?” the officers asked.
“Yes, he’s my brother,” Valdivieso responded.
Valdivieso hoped his brother had not been arrested; the look on the officers’ faces and the tone of their voices told him that something much worse had happened. The officers asked if they could enter the house and Valdivieso felt his body go numb.
Valdivieso’s brother, Larry, then a junior communication major at UB, had hung himself in the basement of his University Heights home.
Between the years of 2004 and 2010, 11 UB students completed suicide, according to Carissa Uschold, a licensed clinical social worker and suicide prevention coordinator at UB. This week is National Suicide Awareness Week and a variety of groups on campus, such as UB’s Student Wellness Teamand Active Minds, are attempting to promote awareness and help get rid of the stigma associated with mental health problems and depression on college campuses.
No one had expected Larry to complete suicide. His father had been with him a few days before his death, and Larry had told him that everything in his life was going well.
Uschold said suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst college students. It is also the most treatable, so it is the most preventable, she said.
For the past seven years, UB has taken steps toward removing the stigma that is associated with depression. During National Suicide Awareness week, a variety of activities relating to mental health were set up on tables around the Student Union.
From “mindful yoga,” to stress-relieving coloring, to Active Minds’ presentations, students were able to involve themselves in promoting awareness and educating themselves on suicide prevention.
There was a “Missing from the Pack” display, which is a project UB students completed in 2008. The goal was to have the student body create 83 backpacks to honor the lives and highlight the unfortunate deaths of 83 New York State college students who died from suicide that year. The backpacks were displayed in the Union on Tuesday.
“The goal is to really let students know that there is hope and help available,” Uschold said. “Personally, I’ve been in social work and mental health for years and certainly there’s some personal experience with family members … This has always been a passion of mine, and I do believe that if people get help, they can avoid suicidal crisis.”
Uschold said that after the wellness team hosts these types of events, more people come to counseling services to receive help.
Four years ago, Active Minds was founded on UB’s campus. The club has been internationally recognized for 10 years and its president at UB, Greer Hamilton, a junior health and human services major, said its goal is to reduce the stigma associated with mental health on college campuses.
In high school, two of Hamilton’s friends struggled with depression.
“As a friend, it was really sad and hard,” Hamilton said. “You want to be able to help them, but you don’t know how to effectively do that. [Their struggles] made me more interested in mental health and how to teach other people about it.”
Her friends would withdraw from her, as well as other close friends and family members that they usually communicated with. They had a loss of appetite and always wanted to stay in bed, Hamilton said. It was when their parents confronted their situations that her friends realized they had an issue and needed help.
“People suffering from the kind of mental anguish that can lead to suicide may avoid speaking about their pain,” according to the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP). The IASP said the stigma and fear of being judged associated with these types of thoughts is what prevents people from seeking help.
Not all college students are lucky enough to have supportive friends and family members, Hamilton said. Active Minds hopes to diminish the fear of seeking help and to lead students in the right direction.
Hamilton said the club does not deal directly with student counseling, because the members are not certified to do so. The club serves as a peer group that discusses how to decrease the stigma and as a support group for those who want to know where they can find help.