Awareness Saves Lives: Campus Events Shine Light On Causes Of Suicide

Tim LaRivarie - Marco Morales beats a drum in Heiner Theatre as part of the “Shake the Dust” spoken word and poetry event

Story By Derek Langhorn, Photo By Tim LaRiviere

The purple shirts worn by students on the Whatcom Community College campus the week of April 22 to 26 were not a fashion statement. Wearing purple shirts was a way to raise awareness of suicide and was just one part of Suicide Awareness week at Whatcom.

Suicide is an issue that many people in the United States are affected by. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), released information stating that between 2005 and 2009, suicide was the third leading cause of death for youths between the ages of 15 and 24. Suicide ranks behind homicide as the number two cause of death, and unintentional injury at number one, with suicide causing an average of 4,600 deaths a year in the U.S.

Awareness of the issues that lead to suicide was the main focal point of Suicide Awareness Week as well as how suicide and depression affects our society. The week was made up of various events to help do this.
On April 23, a Public Broadcast Service documentary called “Cry for Help,” which details the issues surrounding teen depression and suicide, was shown in Syre 104.

The Programming and Diversity Board set up a stand labeled “Squares for Strength” outside of Syre on April 25, which allowed students to write messages to those affected by suicide on squares of felt. The Programming and Diversity Board will sew these squares together to form a quilt.

To finish Suicide Awareness Week, on April 26, an event called “Shake the Dust” took place in Heiner Theater. It was a spoken word and poetry session. There was also a moment of silence to reflect on those suffering, or those who have lost loved ones to suicide.

On April 24, there was a discussion panel which focused on ways to find support for those suffering, and raising awareness of suicide and depression in young adults.

Mady Ellars, the member of the Programming and Diversity Board who headed the event, said that she believes that although depression is a major illness, it can be treated. However, she said sometimes it can be unnoticed, undiagnosed, and misunderstood. She said that there needs to be more awareness of suicide and depression, and that, “there needs to be more resources available.”

“Sometimes it isn’t treated as an actual illness,” Ellars said. “Society has a lot of ageism. Depression is often labeled as teen angst.”

“We live in a society that has a stigma against mental illness,” said Dylan Serdenia, one of the panelists at the discussion panel who represented the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

“They [people who may be contemplating suicide] don’t think anyone can help,” said Bob Brown, another panelist, who works for Whatcom Counseling. He added that these people may feel as though they are already a burden on the people in their lives, and they do not want to add to that burden by seeking help, he said.

Many people experiencing depression may not seek help, Ellars said, because “there is a social stigma about wanting help, especially among young men. There is a social stigma to be manly.”

Brown said that there are many people at risk of committing suicide. “We all want to be accepted,” he said. “we can handle being rejected. We do not want to be ignored though.”

“People with mental illness deal with stresses differently,” Serdenia said. Because of this, people with mental illnesses have “the illusion that there is no out,” Brown said.

The best thing to do when contemplating suicide is to seek help, Ellars said. “Talk about it with family, friends, or counselors on campus,” she said.

“One of the things about our culture is we think we are all rugged individualists, we want to think that we have no limitations,” Brown said. “There is usually one person you can trust who you can talk to.”

Ellars said that there are warning signs to watch for in people who may be contemplating suicide or battling depression. Some of these signs include: “not wanting to get involved in things, unusual sleep patterns, and cutting themselves off from family or friends,” Ellars said. However, she said, these warning signs may often go unnoticed.

“With the withdrawal, you may see people giving things away, trying to tie up loose ends,” Brown said. Sometimes when people with suicidal tendencies change their personality radically, they have already made their decision and they are at ease, he said.

When trying to help friends or family who may be contemplating suicide, Brown said that awareness is key, and that “a lot of it is being available” to those in need.
Unfortunately, sometimes just being there for them is not enough and professional help is needed, Brown said.

Although suicide is a major issue in the United States, Ellars said she believes that through increased awareness, suicide rates may drop. “I believe that there will always be suicide, but… if it is treated as a real illness, rates may drop,” she said.

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