Note: per request of both Counseling & Mental Health Services and the African American Cultural Center, forum panelists’ names will be anonymized. In conjunction with their wishes, gender neutral pronouns have been used to prevent any potential identification.
On Thursday, University of Connecticut students heard their peers’ stories at the Student Voices Panel as part of Suicide Prevention Week. These students spoke bravely and openly about the traumatic experiences they’ve lived through. The panel was held in the community room of the African American Cultural Center (AACC) on the fourth floor of the Student Union. The panel lasted about an hour and consisted of the students introducing themselves and their struggles, followed by questions from the audience, Dr. Willena Kimpson Price, director of the AACC and Dr. Betsy Cracco, director of Counseling and Mental Health Services (CMHS).
The brave panelists documented the hardships they’ve lived through. One student spoke of the dark hole they fell into in eighth grade when their parents went through a tough separation. They talked of the dark times they fell into without their usual helpline: their mother and father.
“I stopped going to work, playing sports - everything. My grades plummeted. There would be times I just laid in bed and looked at the wall for hours,” the panelist said. They continued to tell the audience how they climbed out of that hole. “If you can get the help you need, get it. Never run away from your problems - face them straight up.”
An audience member asked the panel how they could be there for a friend who needs help.
“Something that I’ve found to be very helpful is working on compassion,” a panelist responded. “Most of the time, when you have a conversation with somebody, you can tell when they’re hearing you versus when they’re just waiting to say something back, like ‘that’s crazy’ or ‘that sucks.’ Nobody wants that.” The panelist reassured “just being able to be there for somebody and letting them know that you see the good in them [would be the best]. And that good exists in them, they’re going to make it through.”
The panelists’ stories resonated with both students and staff.
“This event is so powerful every single year we’ve done it because the power of a student’s story can impact our community so much more than having a story come from a staff member,” noted Dr. Erin Cox, assistant director and director of outreach of CMHS. “Being able to connect to students like them who struggle with that is critical. Making space to share those stories, particularly being able to talk about black mental health, is really important as well - to hear from other people within their own community who have those experiences.”
Upon being asked what she would say to a student who wouldn’t feel comfortable confiding their fears or experiences in such an open manner such as Thursday’s panel, Cox empathized.
“There is, unfortunately, a stigma around conversations around mental health and especially with suicide. For students who feel [nervous] to come to these events because of that stigma or concern of what it might bring up for them, I’d really encourage them to do the reading on their own to learn more about it,” Cox said. “They could engage in those conversations in a one-on-one way with friends, family members or an organization like Active Minds (an organization devoted to destigmatizing mental health issues). Additionally, using the assistance provided by CMHS could provide the help they need. We have a lot of different options available to students.”
Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.