Student panel shares personal stories, how to cope with suicide

As part of Suicide Prevention week, students organized in the Student Union to share personal stories about suicide and discuss methods of coping on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016. (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus)

Over 50 students gathered on the fourth floor of the Student Union Tuesday evening to discuss and share about emotionally challenging times in their lives.

Head of the African American Cultural Center, Dr. Willena Price, put a panel together composed of seven UConn students that have all been touched by suicide in different ways, to help educate the audience on how it feels to cope with suicide–personal or otherwise–and help students understand how to prevent it.

Cookies were provided as guests arrived to provide a sense of comfort and ease the tension of the coming setting within room 407. With tissue boxes dispersed, and a rising feeling in the air, the student speakers each took their time on the floor.

Each recalled crushing tales of suicide and the events in their lives that brought those actions upon them or others that they knew and loved. Some were deep seeded events that happened when they were as little as five years old. Others shared experiences that just came a few weeks prior to the event.

Some of the students broke into tears, both on the panel and in the audience, while others remained patiently quiet, listening to the small glimpses into the heartbreak that these seven students endured.

Themes began to emerge as many speakers attempted ending on positive notes, to connect with the audience. Many times certain phrases surfaced: “You’re not alone. Ask people how they are doing and listen with the intent to truly understand.

A lot of people forget how little things can change people’s days, and even their lives. They discussed how much is hidden from the public. They spoke of how many students that are suffering but put on a mask so they can get through their day. They told the audience; you don’t have to have depression or anxiety to be at risk for suicide. Almost 8 percent of all college and college age students have seriously considered suicide as an option.

“It was very eye opening to a reality that is so hard to tell what is really going on in peoples lives. You can’t always judge people,” said Miranda Katllovci, a first semester allied health major.

Although the bulk of the stories and perspectives were difficult to capture at times, the underlying message began to grow stronger: you are not alone. There are staff, doctors, students and campus resources that are easily accessible to UConn students, and they are here at almost any time of day, no matter how you are feeling or what you need. Even members of the counseling services came to show their support to any who needed it.

The event ended with the crowded room feeling more empowered and relieved, despite the tension still lingering in many of the students’ faces that were on their way out. Still, many were surprisingly optimistic. Like Kenny Okafor, a seventh semester finance major.

“(The event) was outstanding, touching on key points of prevention–This is an issue that is pivotal to society and exposing people to what’s going on is an important aspect,” he said.

Learning to always reach out to people who are struggling, even if its uncomfortable, can be huge. Simply asking just “are you ok?” is a tactic that needs to be implemented more with young people.

Visibly pleased with the event, Dr. Price says, “The turnout is always like this, packed, even when we first started doing these panels. We have been bringing these students together since National Suicide Prevention week started. The students we find to speak always bowl (knock) us over with wisdom.”

These events might be difficult to stomach for some, but in the end, everyone was better because of the rare insight that was shared that night.

Dan Wood is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at