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Suicide Prevention and Awareness Week encourages mental health discussion

By Kylie Gurewitz

Suicide Prevention and Awareness (SP&A) Week is an annual series of events put on by the University’s chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. SP&A Week took place on campus from March 19 through 23, with a different event each day. NAMI is the largest grassroots mental health organization, with centers around the country focused on education, counseling, and support groups. The University’s NAMI group is connected to the Pierce County chapter, and is led by co-presidents Nina Kranzdorf and Nathan Baniqued.

“Bringing the conversation about suicide, mental illness, and mental health education to campus” is the goal of the week’s events, according to Baniqued, who also founded Puget Sound’s SP&A Week. The week’s events included a De-Stress Art Night on Monday, a discussion titled “Stigma, Diagnosis, and Self-care Discussion” on Tuesday, an Open Mic night Wednesday, Gatekeeper training on Thursday, and the SP&A forum on Friday.

Monday’s event provided a space for students to paint, craft and enjoy Bob Ross while eating snacks in a calm environment, with the goal of easing the stress of returning from spring break.

Tuesday’s discussion, led by long-time member junior Tessa Nania, facilitated a discussion which encouraged students to reflect upon different topics around mental illness. “It was kind of a mix of talking about our own personal experiences, and where stigma comes from, what we can do to fight stigma, and then we talked about the difference between self-care and self-comfort,” Kranzdorf said.

Nania explained that self-care benefits someone’s mental or physical health, and affirms need for self-respect, connection and alignment. Examples include sleeping, eating well, bathing regularly, artistic expression or journaling. On the other hand, self-comfort comes from a short-term craving for warmth, pleasure or a break. This can include eating too much junk food, procrastinating by watching Netflix or empty sexual expression.

“I think that was a really productive discussion,” Baniqued said. “We just had a pretty nice circle discussion about ‘What is this topic of mental illness? Why do people view it differently than a physical illness? Why do people treat it differently than a physical illness?’” Baniqued emphasized the importance of discussing the way mental illness is viewed and treated, and the importance of bringing this discussion to campus.

Wednesday’s Open Mic Night offered students an opportunity to express their thoughts with others, through speech, poetry or music.

Thursday’s Gatekeeper training gave students resources and tools to identify and help others who may be struggling with mental illness. “It is designed to prepare professional and non-professional people to be prepared for mental health crises,” Kranzdorf explained.

One of the central events of the week was Friday’s forum, which was the original event from which the entire SP&A week developed. “It is a space for students, faculty, and staff to share their personal stories,” Kranzdorf said. In addition to speakers, the event also incorporates small-group discussions and activities. Both Kranzdorf and Baniqued spoke at Friday’s forum, sharing personal stories about their experiences with mental health. Having planned the event the last two years, Baniqued was able to have a new perspective on this event, stepping out from his behind-the-scenes role to share his own story.   Several other students shared their own experiences with mental health, as well as representatives from Residence Life and CHWS, who provided campus resources available to students dealing with these issues. “It’s supposed to bring a very stigmatized and taboo topic to the forefront,” Baniqued said. These topics were the focus of the forum’s group discussions, encapsulating the goal of SP&A Week: not just learning about mental illness and suicidality, but creating productive conversations and inclusive spaces for these topics to be discussed.

SP&A Week has grown a great deal since its founding three years ago, and NAMI hopes to continue developing it in many ways. Baniqued emphasized that one of the goals is for the week’s events to involve more faculty, staff and community members, in addition to students. Since its creation in 2016, SP&A Week has begun collaborating with clubs such as Peer Allies and the Psychology Honors Society, and incorporating educational resources on mental health as well as discussion opportunities. Puget Sound’s chapter of NAMI will be hosting similar events for the upcoming Love Your Body Week on campus, which will take place April 9–13.

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