On Wednesday evening, the Boston College chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) hosted a panel on mental health, featuring a dialogue between students, professors, and professionals from University Counseling Services (UCS). The panel, hosted on World Suicide Prevention Day, was one of many events this week aimed at sparking conversation on campus about mental illness, as a part of National Suicide Prevention Week.
World Suicide Prevention Day was started collaboratively in 2003 by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in an effort to gather the international community for awareness and dialogue on suicide, mental illnesses associated with suicide, and suicide prevention.
Conversation about suicide and mental illness is especially necessary, although often lacking on college campuses, said Cassidy Gallegos, TWLOHA BC president and LSOE ’16.
“To Write Love on Her Arms is a national nonprofit organization that aims to present hope and provide help for people that are struggling with addiction, depression, self-injury, and suicide,” Gallegos said. “Our mission is to spread the vision of this organization by starting a conversation about mental health on campus.”
The panel, in an effort to provoke this conversation, featured Christine Merkle, the assistant director of University Counseling Services; Joe Maimone, A&S ’16; Lauren Freise, A&S ’17; and special guest Olivia Reardon, who has spoke widely about her struggles with depression. The panelists spoke from personal experience about dealing with mental health issues or counseling others with mental health issues, and they answered audience questions.
The panelists discussed the stigma associated with mental health and seeking mental health services on campus.
“If you change the attitude, rhetoric, and perception of mental health on campus, that will help eliminate the stigma,” Reardon said.
Reardon is a speaker for Families for Depression Awareness, a national nonprofit organization that seeks to help families cope with depression and bipolar disorder and prevent suicide. She uses her personal experiences with depression and mental illness to spread awareness and dispel the stigma surrounding mental illness.
“The first and most obvious way to eliminate stigma would be rhetoric—the words that you choose when discussing mental illness,” Reardon said. “Instead of saying ‘committed suicide,’ choose instead to say ‘death by suicide.’ The word ‘committed’ insinuates that the person has made a conscious decision, when often their mental state has prevented them from making a choice.”
Maimone shared part of his experience of being stigmatized on campus because of his mental illness.
“When I was struggling with depression last year, there were times when I would reach out to friends and hinted, or even directly told them, that I was depressed, Maimone said. “A lot of times the conversation would be met with pity, misunderstanding, and awkwardness.”
As a volunteer for the Trevor Project, a non-profit organization that focuses on suicide prevention among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth, Maimone has been exposed to the necessity of open dialogue between both parties.
“Giving people an open space to talk about their issues helps, in part, to diminish stigma,” he said. “In that moment when someone reaches out to you, you are showing that you care, as opposed to avoiding the conversation.”
The statistics surrounding suicide and mental health disorders can also help destigmatize the issue. One in 10 college students has considered suicide, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among college-age students. One in four adults has dealt with a mental health disorder. Every 14 minutes someone in the U.S. dies by suicide.
“In order to help eliminate stigma, you just need to look at the numbers, and really ingest them,” Freise said. “I think the stigma exists because people don’t realize how true it is that people deal with these issues on campus, and that people are scared to talk about it.”
The panel highlighted the numerous resources on campus available to those struggling with suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, or any mental illness.
“If you are feeling suicidal, or if you know anyone feeling suicidal, it is important to know that there is help on this campus,” Merkle said. “When you have that gut feeling that something is wrong—whether it be with a friend, a roommate, a colleague—in many cases you are correct, and you should consult University Counseling Services.”
UCS provides individual counseling and psychotherapy, psychiatric services, crisis intervention, and consultation, among other services. UCS is located in the basement of Gasson and can be reached at (617) 552-3310. For psychological emergencies after office hours and on weekends, students can contact the Psychological Emergency Clinician at (617) 552-3227.
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor