As I have blogged about previously, I am part of a wonderful organization called Active Minds. Oberlin's chapter, which I currently run, is less than a year old, and yet we've been able to do some incredible things on campus throughout this year. When I last blogged about Active Minds, I did an overview of our chapter's brief history. Now, less than a year since our charter was approved by Oberlin's General Faculty, I want to tell you about two events that Active Minds sponsored on 11 April.
In January, I was contacted by the chapter coordinator (Becky!) who oversees the midwest of the U.S. for Active Minds, Inc. She told me that Oberlin had been selected as one of several schools to host Send Silence Packing, an educational tour designed to raise awareness about suicide on college campuses. This event features 1100 backpacks representing the 1100 college students who lose their lives to suicide annually. Some, but not all, of the backpacks feature stories of individuals who have lost their lives to suicide. Not only is this event something that I believe to be extraordinarily important, but I knew it would also be a huge opportunity for Active Minds at Oberlin to stimulate conversations about mental health on our campus.
We were actually lucky enough to receive press coverage before the event began. I wrote a press release (with some editing assistance from the wonderful Brandi Ferrebee) and sent it to Brandi in Communications, as well as Oberlin's student-run newspapers. The Communications Office wrote a story about the event for the homepage and Cleveland's local Fox station covered the event as well.
On the day of the event, a thunderstorm started around 7:30am, so we were forced to change the location of the event from Wilder Bowl to the Science Center, which, at first, didn't seem like it would be a problem. We encountered some bureaucratic mishaps (which required not one, not two, not three, but FOUR different people inspecting the display to be sure it didn't violate the fire code - isn't bureaucracy wonderful?!), but everything worked itself out.
Nicole, one of the Active Minds staffers, blogged about her take on the event. Overall, the people I talked to were glad that we were able to have this display on campus. There were some, however, who were less than thrilled. One of my friends on Facebook (who shall remain nameless for the purposes of this blog) posted something along the lines of the following:
"The Science Center really needs to stop hosting depressing events. My day is stressful enough without being reminded of child abuse and suicide."
To say that I was disappointed when I read this would be an understatement. This person has since deleted this status, but it did not go unnoticed. And in response I would like to say the following:
I'm sorry that for a week, the Center for Leadership in Health Promotion decided to recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month (not child abuse, necessarily) by using a display in the Science Center hallway. I'm sorry that, for less than 8 hours, Active Minds thought it might be a good idea to let people with suicidal thoughts on our campus know that they shouldn't be afraid to seek help. I'm sorry that for one day we interrupted the cushy comfort of your life to bring attention to the fact that every year 1100 college students feel so trapped, lost, and hopeless that they decide to kill themselves in order to end the pain. Most of all, I'm sorry that comments like yours are the reason that so many people who suffer from mental health problems are afraid to seek help. Perpetuating the stigma associated with these issues is a terrible thing and I hope that, eventually, you will come to realize this fact. End of rant.
As a follow-up to Send Silence Packing, we revived "Eat, Sleep, and Be Merry: Perspectives on Mental Health at Oberlin," which was a panel discussion featuring three outstanding administrators - Lori Morgan Flood, Associate Dean and Director of Wellness and Health Promotion; Charles Ross, Director of Student Health and the Counseling Center; and Betsy Bruce, Director of Recreation and Club Sports. The panel discussion had an upbeat focus, with the panelists talking about various resources at Oberlin, followed by a Q&A that led to a discussion between the panelists and the students who attended the event.
Overall, I was pleased with how the day went. I've had many people come up to me and tell me that they were glad we were able to bring this event to campus. Students, faculty, and staff stopped by the display throughout the day, many choosing to read through all of the story backpacks that are always featured as part of the display. It was an emotionally heavy day, but one that I hope will stimulate conversations about mental health at Oberlin.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Lorain County Mental Health Hotline: 1-440-233-7232
The Trevor Project: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386)
"I was able to talk to a few students and their conclusions were that because Oberlin focuses highly on academics and Oberlin students hold very high standards for themselves, they sometimes forget the importance of their mental health. I also believe that this stands true for many other universities as well. Another student told me that she was unaware of the severity of the topic and that she thinks that many other students may feel the same way. Even though the students aren't starting conversations with us today, they are going to class or going back home thinking about what kind of an impact suicide has on people and ways to take care of themselves so they can get help before being lost to suicide." - Nicole Pietrzak, one of the Send Silence Packing staffers.