OPINION | Suicide Prevention Month needs to be a priority for universities

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and we use this time to raise awareness about the significance of mental health and suicide prevention. This graphic illustrates words of encouragement to convey optimism, particularly in the context of suicide prevention. Mia Tom | Sun News Daily

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It’s imperative for students’ well-being that Suicide Prevention Month be at the forefront of all universities’ radars. 

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among individuals 15-24 years old, which is the age of most college students. It is the second leading cause of death among those who are 25-34 years old.

As September is National Suicide Prevention Month, National Suicide Prevention Week is held the week after Labor Day. This year it was held Sept. 10-16, Sept. 10 being World Suicide Prevention Day. 

Utah Tech University’s Booth Wellness Center hosted its Suicide Prevention Week Sept. 6-8 which consisted of minimal activities

While suicide can be an uncomfortable topic, students need to know there are resources, support and help for them. 

The events that occurred Sept. 6-8 included:

Booth Wellness Center flyer for Suicide Prevention Week

I understand the university can only do so much, but compared to last year, their activities this year felt hurried and not completely thought out. For example, the pool party was something UTSA had planned, so it doesn’t make sense to count it as a suicide prevention event. 

For how much the BWC is encouraged as a resource for students, one would think there should have been more intentional events surrounding suicide prevention. 

Last year, the university laid out more than 300 backpacks around campus to represent how many Utah Tech students had attempted death by suicide within the previous year. About 1,300 pinwheels were set up to represent students who had thought about dying by suicide. Positive messages were written with chalk art in front of the Gardner Student Center.

Compared to last year, this year’s suicide prevention events did not have the same powerful impact. Having physical objects represent real students with real experiences is far more powerful than attending a pool party that UTSA planned. Instead of having activities that feel rushed, universities should conduct meaningful and impactful events.

Jamy Dahle, director of counseling services and wellness promotion at the BWC, said after having a debrief meeting pertaining to this year’s Suicide Prevention Week events, it is noted that next year will have a display to bring more awareness to the number of students on campus struggling with suicidal thoughts and attempts.

One thing the university could do is have a community walk for suicide prevention. I understand this would take a lot of preparation, but community walks help people connect and make individuals feel they are a part of something bigger than themselves. 

Oftentimes, what people need is to feel they are a part of something that matters. As someone who has had a few close members of my family die by suicide, it is important for me and my family to participate in suicide prevention and awareness events. 

This past April, my mom and I participated in the Life’s Worth Living Foundation’s Walk to Wendover

The foundation, based in Tooele, took a large group of people who had been affected by suicide and bussed them along the route from Tooele to Wendover. Each person chose what increments they wanted to walk. My mom and I walked over 20 miles within the span of two days. 

The walking wasn’t the part I remember the most. The part I remember the most is talking to all the people we were around and knowing all of us had been affected in different ways by suicide. As my mom and I talked with our fellow participants, I felt that even though we were just walking, we were doing something grand. It was grand to each of us individually. 

Another activity Utah Tech and other universities can do is encourage students to volunteer at crisis hotlines by setting up a workshop for students to learn how and where to volunteer. 

BWC does offer Question, Persuade and Refer training to help individuals recognize the warning signs of suicide and help those at risk. QPR is a free training that is offered periodically throughout the year. While this isn’t a mandatory training, it should be promoted through Utah Tech’s social media and talked about in classes. If more students knew about QPR, there would be a higher participation in the training.

Having open conversations about suicide isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it helps students realize they are not alone in their own thoughts and experiences. It’s OK to ask difficult questions if you notice someone is struggling. 

For next year during Suicide Prevention Month, Utah Tech should take into consideration creating events that have the power to impact students’ lives in a more meaningful way. 

Instead of attending a pool party UTSA planned, events like a suicide prevention walk around campus and physical representational displays would be better alternatives and far more meaningful to students. 

Suicide Prevention Month shouldn’t be rushed or consist of activities on the sideline. It should be at the forefront of all universities, and it needs to be taken seriously. No more careless events thrown together. Students need to know they are cared for and have a community that offers help and support.