For many college students, September is a month of stress. The relatively slow-starting first month of the fall semester is over, and the real work is beginning. There’s more homework to do, exams to take and papers to write, all while balancing jobs, studying, socializing and self-care; it’s a lot to handle.
College can be mentally overwhelming, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro wants to help its students handle the stresses of college and in their own personal lives. Mental Health Month 2017 at UNCG was created by the Department of Recreation and Wellness to bring awareness to the different challenges students face in and out of college. Different programs and events are available throughout September to help students confront challenges such as mental illness, eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual assault and suicide.
Even if certain students don’t suffer from any of these challenges, the events brought recognition to how serious these challenges can be for others on campus. One program, with support from the Counseling Center, Dean of Students Office and Kaplan Center for Wellness, used a colorful display of pinwheels to draw people’s attention to their significance.
In accordance with National Suicide Prevention Week from Sept. 10 to Sept. 16 and World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10, Pinwheels for Prevention utilized the lawn of the Elliott University Center for the same purpose, to reveal the impact of suicide and help prevent future attempts. The exhibition lasted from Sept. 12 to Sept. 21, allowing countless members of the UNCG community to see and feel its impact.
A total of 1,100 pinwheels were placed on the lawn, representing the 1,100 college students in the United States taken by suicide every year. Of these 1,100 students, according to activeminds.org, 80 to 90 percent did not seek help from the counseling centers at their college. These statistics are alarming. And as such it can be hard to believe that people don’t spend more time talking about the serious issue of suicide.
Just like the other issues addressed during Mental Health Month 2017, there is a stigma surrounding suicide. Words like cowardly, attention-seeking and selfish have been connected with people who have attempted or committed suicide, causing an inherent feeling of shame to those who are suffering in life and have had thoughts of suicide.
There are many people out there who put on a mask of happiness to try and avoid being shamed when in reality they’re fighting an internal battle of whether or not life is worth living. While Pinwheels for Prevention brings attention to college students’ suicides, it also brings attention to the issue of suicide at large.
On an international level, according to the website for the International Association for Suicide Prevention, “Every year, more than 800,000 people die by suicide and up to 25 times as many make a suicide attempt.” With these facts in mind, IASP also expresses the dire need for everyone in their own community “to look out for those who may be struggling, check in with them and encourage them to tell their story in their own way and at their own pace.”
Simple acts can positively affect a person feeling lost or thinking there’s no way out. Asking a friend, family member or even a stranger, “are you ok?” can make a world of difference. It shows that someone cares about them as a person. Offering to listen to their thoughts with a non-judgmental ear is also helpful to those who feel like they can’t talk about their thoughts and feelings without being ashamed.
Pinwheels for Prevention offered words of support by means of signs surrounding the display. Signs displayed quotes and encouraging statements such as, “You are important. Your FEELINGS matter. Your LIFE matters. Your STORY matters” and “Seeking out help shows strength.”
Mental health matters at UNCG. There are resources on and off campus, online and nationwide to support those who feel like they have no one to turn to for help. Places like the Counseling Center and Student Health Services are there to help UNCG students work through their thoughts, comfort them in hard times and offer helpful advice.
If a student, faculty or staff member is interested in learning more about preventing suicide, on the Counseling Center website, there is a link to an online suicide prevention training program that teaches how to “identify people at risk for suicide, recognize the risk factors, protective factors, and warning signs of suicide and respond to and get help for people at risk.” Educating aids in preventing, and it only takes around 20 minutes to complete.