By Talia Dennis

Suicide is a word with a stigma attached to it, and a word people are afraid to say said panelists during Kappa Lambda Xi’s Enlighten: Lighting the Path to Suicide Awareness and Prevention March 12.

A significant portion of the talk was spent discussing the available resources to anyone who is contemplating suicide or struggling with their mental wellbeing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named suicide as the second leading cause of death in people ages 15 to 34 in 2015.

The Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-723-8255) is available 24/7, but there is also a crisis hotline anyone can text (741-741), free of charge, to connect with a live, trained counselor.

Linda Diaz, founder and CEO of Lauryn’s Law, repeated the phone number “741-741” throughout the night to remind everyone the 24/7 service is meant to help anyone who is seeking emotional support.

Diaz said her daughter, Lauryn, died by suicide in 2013 at the age of 15 due to bullying. There are now two laws in Maryland named after her, which require additional training for school counselors on how to better “understand and respond to youth suicide risk,” according to the non-profit Lauryn’s Law.

The panelists reiterated that in emergent cases where someone is planning to kill their self, calling 911 is a better option.

Students in the audience were interested in ways they could help friends who seem to be struggling mentally.

Diaz discussed the term “source of strength,” which is a person someone could reach out to.

“Someone who you can speak to,” she said, “who does not criticize you, who listens to you and who does not want to advise you, but they want to make sure that you have a person you can go to, so they can actually listen and be there for you.”

Having someone to depend on is beneficial, Diaz said.

Tammi Ginsberg, a local therapist and board president of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Maryland, said people should not be afraid to say the word “suicide” to someone they are worried about. She assured the audience they would not give the person the idea.  

Students concerned about a friend can look for various warning signs, she said.

“You’re seeing them not going to class every day, not eating … not interacting with people anymore,” Ginsberg said. “Even if their words are ‘no,’ I would still check.”

Health Educator Sarah Wilson, from this university’s Health Center, recommended using “I” statements when reaching out to a friend.

“Anytime you can use an ‘I’ statement, it makes it feel less accusatory and it might make somebody a little bit more into having the conversation with you,” she said.

It can also be helpful to offer to go with the person to counseling or the health center, but not necessarily sit in on the session, she said.

Wilson said students can also call the Help Center (1-301-314-HELP) on campus, which is staffed by peers who go through extensive training to listen and help others.

Even after a friend begins counseling, it is still important to check on them, said Janel Cubbage, director of suicide prevention at the Behavioral Health Administration.

“Being able to provide that support for them is so key for healing after an event or whatever it is they’re going through,” she said.

“One of the things we’re trying to do here is stop the stigma around mental health issues,” Ginsberg said. “You don’t want to alienate them, you don’t want to treat them different … treat them the way you have, continue to be their friend.”

She also suggested checking in with the person and if they are struggling, talk about it.

“It’s sort of normalizing mental health issues because we’re all bound to have something in our lifetime having to do with our mental health, just like we’re all bound to have something to do with our physical health,” she said.

Cubbage discussed in greater detail the different treatment people receive from society due to mental health issues compared to physical health.

She mentioned a video titled “Hope for Depression” where a young woman with cancer is being told to “snap out of it,” “go outside and get some sunshine” and “can we stop with the pity party?”

Cubbage said people with mental health conditions “may experience this every day by the people they love,” when they should be treated equally to those with physical conditions.  

Colleen Creighton, the executive director of the American Association of Suicidology, said the way media covers mental health can help destigmatize it.

“The media needs to be educated on how to report suicide,” she said. One of the ways the media is destigmatizing the topic is by transitioning away from saying someone “committed suicide” and avoiding graphic aspects, like how someone kills themself, she said.

“It definitely made me more aware, probably more observant, of the people around me and people at home, my family and stuff, ” said Ivana Olivares, a senior civil and environmental engineering and webmistress for the sorority, about the event. “Definitely the awareness factor was increased dramatically, which was the purpose of the event.”

The sorority collected $300 in donations, which they will donate to the American Association of Suicidology.

A campus walk to raise awareness for suicide prevention is scheduled for April 22 in front of McKeldin Library. It is hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Featured Photo Credit: Featured photo courtesy of Danny Molyneux on Flickr.

Talia is a sophomore journalism major and history major and can be reached at tdennis1@terpmail.umd.edu.

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