World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10) may be over, but its message stands year-round at Gannon University.
Several on-campus organizations aim to save lives through education and support.
One such group is Gannon’s chapter of Active Minds, a national organization that works to reduce stigma and raise awareness about mental health on college campuses.
Matt Kridel, a senior psychology major and member of Active Minds, said the group hopes to partner with local mental health organizations to hold a suicide awareness event this semester.
Kridel is also the president of the LGBTQ support group LIFE, which stands for Love Is for Everyone.
“LGBTQ youth are at one of the highest risks of depression and suicide,” Kridel said, “and so prevention and education is extremely important for LIFE.”
Members hold an annual “Prayer Vigil to End Hatred” to remember those lost to bullying-related suicide and to bring awareness to these tragedies. LIFE also regularly hosts speakers who address the topic of suicide.
Kridel said LIFE plans to work on future events in conjunction with Active Minds. He said both groups have profoundly impacted his life.
“Being a part of these organizations has not only given me a great personal sense of fulfillment,” Kridel said, “but has continued to open my eyes to the need for education about and support of the LGBTQ and mental health communities.”
Kridel said he has encountered suicide on a few occasions – first when a childhood friend committed suicide and more recently when a fellow college student attempted.
“I’ve told all of their stories multiple times,” Kridel said, “but they can never be told enough. No one can ever know how wide or how deep the impact of a suicide will be, but there is no doubt that the aftermath is tragic.”
Feliesha Shelton-Wheeler, a doctor of psychology and staff therapist at Gannon’s Health and Counseling Services office, also said that the circumstances surrounding suicide are tragic.
National statistics indicate that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 15 and 24. Because traditional college students fall within this range, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college students.
“This is a scary statistic and why the seriousness of suicide needs our attention,” Shelton-Wheeler said. “In my opinion, losing one person to suicide is too many.”
Several factors can increase the risk of suicide regardless of a person’s age or educational level – the presence of depression or other mental health disorders, substance abuse and previous suicide attempts. Shelton-Wheeler said it is important to understand that not everyone who is diagnosed with a mental health disorder will attempt suicide.
The natural adjustments that come with college life can worsen risk factors.
“In many cases,” Shelton-Wheeler said, “students experience homesickness, cultural and relational changes, and academic adjustments. All of these transitions can make even a student with even the most optimal coping skills vulnerable to stress and depression.”
However, students can develop certain protective factors. Shelton-Wheeler said she advises students to build strong connections with family and friends, be mindful of physical and emotional needs, and seek help when they feel they need it.
Students who have been previously diagnosed with a mental health disorder and require ongoing support are encouraged to utilize the resources available at the Health and Counseling Services office.
Warning signs may precede a suicide attempt, Shelton-Wheeler said. Someone may be considering suicide if they threaten or talk about committing suicide, feel overwhelming sadness, withdraw from others or make statements – verbal or written – that have to do with saying goodbye.
A student who is considering suicide should immediately seek help from a resident assistant, resident director or campus minister. In an emergency, the student can contact a crisis line at 814-456-2014 or call 911.
If he could speak directly to someone considering suicide, Kridel said he would emphasize the value in every human being.
“You are worth more than you can ever know and you are never alone,” he said. “There are so many people out there who want to see you well, who want to see you happy and all you have to do is reach out to them.”