At times both emotional and inspiring, the Student Voices Panel held in the African American Cultural Center last week brought the often stigmatized issue of suicide to the forefront.
The event, which was part of UConn’s Suicide Prevention Week, featured eight students who shared their experiences with suicide. Some had dealt with depression and their own suicidal thoughts in the past, while others told of how their lives were affected by an acquaintance, friend, or loved one thinking about, attempting, or committing suicide.
The panel served as an important reminder to students that the issue affects everyone, said Erin Cox, the outreach coordinator and a psychologist at Counseling and Mental Health Services. Sharing personal stories helps people realize they are not alone and helps reduce the stigma.
“I think it’s amazing to hear these stories. It’s brave; it’s courageous; it’s beautiful to show your vulnerability and to show how these things have an impact on our life,” Cox said after the students spoke. “Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. It impacts us all. And to hear these stories helps us bring that to mind because a lot of times, it is hidden.”
Laura Muro ’15 (CLAS) spoke of her own experiences with depression, bulimia, and suicidal thoughts.
She stressed the importance of getting help – and of helping others get help. Muro, who transferred to UConn, discussed her experiences with counseling services while she was a student at Southern Connecticut State University, outpatient therapy, and The Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital.
She recalled how a friend she met at the Institute of Living called her one night saying she had severely cut herself and was committing suicide. Muro was able to get the friend’s address and call 911 to get her medical help.
“This was right after I spent a week in a psychiatric unit for wanting to commit suicide,” Muro said. “For me, that was very alarming. Like, ‘Oh my God, this is what I put my family through.’”
Many of the student speakers shared advice about what they had learned through their experiences, stressing that it can be impossible to tell what other people are going through.
Haddiyyah Ali ’18 (CLAS) said she and her classmates were shocked when a high school acquaintance attempted suicide. The boy had just been accepted to his dream college on a full scholarship, Ali said, and was known for being happy, outgoing, and fun.
“It just resonated with me, because it … opened all of our eyes to the fact that the people we know can be going through so many things that we don’t know about,” she said. “So just be mindful of people. When you talk to people or you’re around people, don’t let what you see about them or what you assume about them paint the picture for you.”
Cox said the theme of this Suicide Prevention Week – Connection is Prevention – came through in the students’ stories.
“That connection piece really is the front line,” Cox said. “Whether it’s your friends, or your roommate, or your girlfriends or boyfriends, family members – if you have that gut feeling that you’re worried about them, reach out to them and help them. Ask if they’re okay. Be a support. And also know that you don’t have to hold this all yourself.”
UConn’s Suicide Prevention Week continues with a presentation on Oct. 1 by keynote speaker Kevin Hines, who survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in an attempted suicide.
For more information, visit suicideprevention.uconn.edu.
The on-call therapist at Counseling and Mental Health Services can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week when classes are in session at 860-486-4705.