By Sydney Leibfritz
The Wick Activist Coalition (WAC) hosted a raw and honest conversation on suicide awareness in the McGriff Alumni House at the end of November.
The event began with a fishbowl discussion with panelists Sarah Asinger (C’21), Sara Brandenburg (C’22), Maria Trejo (C’20), and moderator Isabelle Speed (C’19), followed by a quick Q&A and small group discussions guided by WAC leaders.
Asinger, who also organized the event, prefaced the conversation by stating, “This is a safe space, but also a brave space,” reiterating that this conversation would be difficult but necessary. She encouraged participation from everyone.
Each of the panelists recounted their experiences with loved ones attempting or committing suicide, as well as their own grieving processes in the aftermath of the tragedies. Their complete shock upon hearing the news became a common thread of these immensely personal stories.
Because their loved ones struggled to voice their emotions or let anyone know they were struggling, the stigma around mental health presented a large concern to all of the panelists.
With the hidden signs of suicidal thoughts left unseen, the fishbowl discussion also handled how these losses have informed the way close friends and family members suspended in grief move forward in future relationships. Trejo noted, “I think that loss makes me very aware of how I interact with people now, especially given the circumstances surrounding the suicide. Every conversation has an impact.”
Brandenburg, whose close friend fortunately survived her suicide attempt, explained how she struggled to balance her own self care with the needs of her friend. “I would call her every day to see if she needed anything, which meant I didn’t give myself a lot of time to process my own emotions,” she recalled. “I think a lot of it was guilt and I just wanted to make it better somehow.”
As the conversation shifted to responses and the small group discussions, many attendees expressed their hope that more attention will be given to expanding the Wellness Center’s hours and increasing training for students for suicide prevention.
One suggestion was holding an open Question-Persuade-Refer (QPR) training session a semester for students to learn the signs of suicidal ideation, how to persuade a peer to seek out help, and where to refer or bring a student in crisis.
Alternatively, a few students also noted that while the Wellness Center has resources available for those in crisis, the waiting list to secure an appointment means that preventative care is hard to acquire before the mental state becomes a crisis.
In one group, a student explained her experience with having to seek weekly mental health treatment over an hour from campus due to the overcapacity of the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services.
As the conversation wrapped up, few straightforward answers seemed apparent on how to address the wider issue of increasing national rates of suicide. However, in simply devoting an hour to have a conversation on such a stigmatized topic, the WAC hopes that conversations will become easier in the future and pave the road to a more open culture of mental health treatment.