By Alyssa Danis
March 28-31 marked Puget Sound’s second annual Suicide Awareness and Prevention week, brought to campus by the University’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
NAMI is a relatively new club on campus that was established last fall. Juniors Anna Goebel and Nathan Baniqued are the co-presidents of the club this year. NAMI is one of the first mental health clubs on campus. Last year they hosted their first Suicide Prevention and Awareness week. This year Goebel organized the Love Your Body week last month, and Baniqued was in charge of organizing the Suicide Prevention week.
All week there were important events to engage the campus community. The week’s events all shared the common goal of opening up the conversation around mental illness and suicide. “There hasn’t been a lot of exposure to mental health and prevention for the general campus … The knowledge doesn’t need to be restricted to employees of the school,” Baniqued said.
The week’s events kicked off on Tuesday, March 29 with a yoga class organized and led by the Puget Sound Yoga Club. The class was a gentle restorative class to teach students how yoga can ease the effects of depression and anxiety.
Wednesday featured a march across campus known as Take Back the Night. Take Back the Night is put on by Sexuality Issues, Relationships, and Gender Education (SIRGE) and Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA). Students left from the Tahoma room at about 8:30 p.m. and marched through campus chanting powerful phrases such as, “Yes means yes, and no means no, no matter what we wear, or where we go!” The rally gave students the chance to have their voices heard and grant agency to victims of power-based violence.
On Thursday, Registered Nurse and Board Director of Pierce County’s NAMI chapter Shelly Picco led a seminar in suicide prevention and awareness. The seminar focused on educating attendees on how to address those who may be suffering from suicidal ideations. Picco taught the Question, Persuade, and Refer (QPR) program based on her work for the Rainier Wellness Foothills Foundation.
The organization QPR was founded out of Spokane Mental Health center in July 1999. According to their website their mission is to “save lives and reduce suicidal behaviors by providing innovative, practical and proven suicide prevention training. We believe that quality education empowers all people, regardless of their background, to make a positive difference in the life of someone they know.” Baniqued described Thursday as the more “clinical” side of things. The event was based around statistics, policies and lessons, whereas Friday offered a much different experience.
On Friday, a forum of NAMI committee members, students and other faculty and staff presented their experiences with suicide and mental illness. President Isiaah Crawford was a guest speaker for the event. Crawford addressed the administration’s part of the issue. He mentioned some resources such as Counseling, Health, and Wellness Services (CHWS), and explained the weight of the issue on him. Although the forum allowed those in attendance to listen to the speakers, they were also engaged. The audience members were asked to write out all the reasons they were attending the forum and their own personal experiences. The second activity asked participants to raise a green dot in the air when they agreed with statements along the lines of “I know there is a stigma among mental health.” The forum was what Baniqued described as the “humanizing perspective” of the event. The event made it very clear that suicide and mental illness are very real things that affect a lot of people on this campus and elsewhere.
NAMI purposely incorporated several clubs in the making of this week’s events. “The overall theme and the reason we have so many clubs involved is because mental illness and mental health isn’t just a singular club thing, or singular student thing. It’s not like that; it’s unique to everyone. Mental health and suicide affect everyone. We felt it wasn’t enough to have one club work on it; we wanted multiple clubs to advocate for it,” Baniqued said. Yoga club, SASA, and Peer Allies were all involved in organizing the event. Either they put on an event, or attended for support like the Peer Allies.
If you missed suicide prevention week and want to get involved in the cause you can attend meetings in McIntyre 309 on Thursday nights from 7-8 p.m. Also, watch out for the Stigma Stomp 5k on April 29. The event is the first of its kind, organized again by NAMI and several other local mental health organizations. The conversation does not end this week. You can help end the stigma every day.
If you yourself, or someone you know needs help related to suicide or mental illness, the following resources are available. On campus there are CHWS, Mandated Assessment of Risk of Suicidality and Self Harm Protocol (MARSSH), and Peer Allies. Other resources include www.crisischat.org, National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK, and Pierce County’s Crisis Line 800-576-7764.