September is National Suicide Prevention month, an important observation to promote on college campuses, say Newman University counseling officials. The official National Suicide Prevention Day was Sept. 10 and Jets For Life decorated campus with purple and turquoise ribbons to spread awareness of the issue.
“Jets For Life is the pro-life club on campus, and our goal is to promote the importance of life,” explained Sara Crook, club president. She noted that most people associate pro-life strictly with abortion issues but Jets For Life takes on a broader scope of the meaning and promote all means of life.
College campuses are an important place to spread awareness of suicide prevention efforts. John Walker, an assistant professor and program director of counseling, said, "Young adults, whether on campus or not, are already one of the highest risk populations for suicide in the U.S. Adding the significant life changes experienced by college students only adds to this risk."
It is important that students who are struggling know that there are people available to listen and help them. It is also important to know what to do when a family member or friend seems to be struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide.
Newman employee Beth has experienced what it’s like to have a child become depressed and suicidal while away at college. "There were a couple of major life events that caused my son to go into severe depression," said Beth. Her son was a sophomore at a university and dropped out of all the programs that had been taking up the majority of his time. He began to separate from his group of friends who were still involved in those programs and then became lonely and depressed.
In October 2016, she received a call from her son. "He said that he didn’t feel that life was worth living. My husband and I tried to call him back and he wasn’t answering his phone so we immediately called the university's security and got in the car to go see him. Since he lived on campus, security was able to get into his dorm room to see that he was OK," she said.
When she and her husband arrived, they saw their son for the first time in a month and a half and he was a shocking sight at 40 pounds lighter and not himself. He was taken to the student health center where trained professionals were available and eager to help.
As a parent, Beth would advise other parents who may be worried about their student to keep an eye out for major changes in their lifestyle, loss of interest in hobbies, isolation and lack of communication. She would suggest that parents of Newman students call campus security if they have an immediate worry about their student's mental health.
"Let your kids know that there’s always somebody there willing to help and don't be afraid to reach out. The most important thing is just to listen,” said Beth. Just being there for her son has helped him immensely.
Warning signs that someone may be depressed or considering suicide can range from extremes such as talking about wanting to die and researching the topic to simply becoming socially withdrawn. According to Walker, other worrisome behaviors can include communicating a sense of profound hopelessness, extreme mood swings, increased drug/alcohol use or reliance, uncharacteristic emotional reactivity to life's stressors and more.
It is important to note that "the risk of suicide grows greater when these behaviors are new, have increased in frequency, or are associated with a traumatic event, painful loss or a significant life change," said Walker.
Debbie Haslam, coordinator of early intervention and testing services, urges students to contact her if they are interested in counseling. Student Support Services offers six free counseling sessions per academic year to full-time students. A counselor from the lcoal Mental Health Association is on campus every Thursday to meet with students who need assistance.
Along with the large purple and turquoise ribbons on campus, small pins courtesy of Jets For Life are available for students to help spread awareness. The same effort was made last year and Crook, the group's president, is thrilled that students have expressed their gratitude to her and want to replace their worn-out pins from last year. Crook said, “The pins, like the large ribbons, carry the same message that you are not alone.”
Pins from Jets for Life will be available at the Mabee Dining Center and Campus Ministry Office (SH219) until they run out.
If you or someone you know are experiencing negative thoughts, please reach out. At Newman, you can visit the counseling services website or contact Debbie Haslam at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
The community of Wichita also provides many resources for those in need. COMCARE is a licensed community mental health center in Wichita. It is a 24/7 crisis hotline with trained professionals willing to speak with those who need help or those seeking advice on how to help their loved one.