The University of Connecticut kicks off Suicide Prevention week today, bringing more awareness to mental illness and the stigmas that follow it.
Multiple universities have made national headlines in recent years after their students committed suicide; Yale University suffered a murder-suicide back in spring 2015, according to a New York Times article.
In this story, and others, reports show a strong link between suicide rates and the number of people seeking mental heal counseling, according to the Center of Collegiate Mental Health 2015 annual report.
Even so, many universities in the United States lack the resources to help their students. However, UConn’s Counseling and Mental Health Services (CMHS) provides multiple resources that are accessible to students.
“It’s important that people feel comfortable being able to talk with someone about their emotions, including any suicidal thoughts they might be feeling,” UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said via email.
“We give them a variety of opportunities through programs, a week of suicide awareness and prevention events and one-to-one counseling.”
One example of a service that CMHS provides is consultation. At 1 p.m. every day, a counselor is available to talk with students on a first come, first served basis, in addition to offering anonymous online screenings to help identify areas of concern.
Seeking help for mental health is also available outside the CMHS building. Reitz said that one of UConn’s policies is to train and encourage residence hall assistants (RAs) to recognize and report signs of crisis in others, and have a variety of policies within the Dean of Students’ office to respond.
“I often wonder whether we stigmatize what we don't understand. Mental health as a discipline and science is so young,” Elizabeth Cracco, Director of CMHS, said. “Just in our lifetime we are developing technology that helps us literally see brain activity associated with moods, and other psychological processes.”
Such stigmas are not usual on college campuses; the current campus culture emphasizes the attitude of standing strong against problems. Different campus communities can also attribute to the stigmatizing of mental illness, such as student athletes and those under high academic pressure as reported by Maya Rhodan of TIME.
CMHS and UConn’s resources help make safe spaces for students as they explore the complex and sometimes emotionally difficult terrain of being in college. For traditionally-aged students, aiding in the transition from adolescence to young adulthood is also important.
“We want our students to have a positive, fulfilling college career here, and part of that is ensuring their emotional needs are met,” Reitz said.
With an estimated 42,773 U.S. citizens committing suicide every year, it’s the second leading cause of death for ages 15-24 in Connecticut, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Cracco said that CMHS’s work helps students with mental illnesses know they are not alone in dealing with life's challenges, but, also encourages students to be blunt about their distress.
“There are many of us, who at one time or another, in service to staying in our comfort zones, have prolonged our suffering immensely,” she said.
Suicide Prevention week begins with the Field of Memories at the Student Union Lawn today, followed by Project Semicolon at 6 p.m., held at the Women’s Center. For more information: go to suicideprevention.uconn.edu.
Arlene Blum is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.