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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Challenging stigmas during National Suicide Prevention Week

By Lauren Schwartz ’17

National Suicide Prevention Week took place this past week, Sept. 5 through Sept. 11. You may have noticed a large banner hanging in the Campion Courtyard that read “Together We’re Stronger.” This banner was part of a larger campaign to raise awareness of National Suicide Prevention Week on campus. My fraternity brothers from Phi Sigma Pi, a gender-inclusive honor fraternity on campus, and I asked the Saint Joseph’s University community to join us in our National Suicide Prevention Week mission. Part of this outreach was gathering signatures on the banner during free period.

We asked that the St. Joe’s community stand by us as we, for the first time as a fraternity, challenged the stigma surrounding mental health. We joined other groups on campus who already sponsor different awareness events, including the Dean’s Leadership Program and Sigma Pi.  By challenging the stigma, we joined the campus effort to help provide support for all those affected by suicide.

While I understand that suicide is a sensitive topic, it is a subject that requires everyone to be educated and to be actively spreading awareness. According to Emory University’s research on suicide on college campuses, administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, over 1,000 undergraduate students commit suicide each year. Moreover, 1 in 10 college students have made a plan for suicide.

As startling as these numbers initially seem, they start to make sense when you think more deeply about the reasons behind these statistics. Surrounded by seemingly near-perfect people on a college campus, who appear to manage their social and academic life so well, it isn’t surprising that so many students feel as if their lives are not enough. The fear of letting down our loved ones; feeling “less than” our peers; seeing our future goals drowning along with our grades—these add up to make college kids easy prey to depression and other mental stresses.

That’s why we need to stand together.

Stigma is a mark of negativity, a mark of disgrace. And one of the greatest (perhaps the greatest) stigmas in our society exists in the area of mental health, with struggles like addiction, depression, and certainly suicide. Suicide is known to be a whispered word, and that silence comes from stigma. Stigma that leads to fear of discrimination and judgment. And it’s a devastating cycle: The stigma is rooted in silence, and the silence feeds the stigma. While so much progress has been made, suicide and the area of mental health are still topics we are not supposed to talk about; they are struggles society tells us we should keep hidden, or else risk the hurtful and damaging responses from those around us. As students continue to struggle in silence, it seems that healing would be impossible, especially if we are not even able to admit these feelings exist.

Talking about it is the only way to break the cycle. It’s the only way to create a safe space for people to seek help. If we as a society talk about mental health in a compassionate and understanding light, then asking for help and finding recovery will be much easier—and will happen much sooner.

So, we decided to talk about it on campus. By engaging the St. Joe’s community with discussion and outreach to sign the “Together We’re Stronger” banner, I think we started conversations and, ultimately, began to decrease the stigma in bringing it to light at St. Joe’s.

“Together We’re Stronger” is more than just a phrase of hope; it’s a commitment, a promise. It’s a promise to be there for each other, because as people, we need other people. We’re committing to believing in ourselves, each other, and in our tomorrow. We want people who are struggling with depression or contemplating suicide to know all of this and to know that they are loved and supported by the St. Joe’s community. As a university, we are stronger together.

When we come together for this sort of conversation—when we choose to be vulnerable with our stories and to invest in the stories of other people—we have the power to see lives change and people stay alive.

It is our hope that by having these conversations and bringing light to this silent subject that more organizations on campus will, too, begin to have these conversations, and that those who are struggling know that there are people on campus who support them and want them to get help; there are people on campus who have seen past the stigma and believe that there are better days ahead for them. We have started the conversation, but it must be continued.

National Suicide Prevention Week may have ended, but this fight is far from over. Awareness is more than a week-long commitment.  If we’re going to continue to move people to keep living, we’re going to have to keep working.

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