The issue of suicide is a sensitive topic in any situation, but it is even more so in a college environment, when the question of how much accountability administration should take is an issue at hand. However, getting administration to be more transparent about the prevalence of suicide on campus may be one of those “when pigs fly” kind of things. That’s why this isn’t a story about how administration needs to take more accountability; it’s a story about you and how you can increase the transparency around mental health issues. In college it’s easy to convince yourself that you need to focus on yourself: focus on building a resume, building a network, or even bodybuilding. You transform into a real Bob the Builder don’t you? But if you never take the time to lean into your emotions, not to mention the emotions of your peers, it’s like you’re building a temple for nobody to enjoy.
One of the reasons why college is such a vulnerable time for students in terms of mental health is because our brain does not fully develop until we are 25 years old. According to Philly Mag’s article on Madison Holleran’s suicide from the University of Pennsylvania. Mental illnesses first show their signs between the ages of 16 and 25. It seems as if on top of dealing with the transition from home to college, students are also faced with the challenge of dealing with their restless synapses.
The University of Pennsylvania faced four suicides in a month and a half this past year: a frequency so high that people felt as if one suicide served as a trigger for the next. Some people were uncomfortable with how UPenn dealt with the suicides because the administration did not notify the entire student body about the deaths, and students felt as if they were left to grieve alone.
Most people wondered why students who are so high-achieving, so close to graduating from an Ivy League school, would want to end their lives. Some say it is the competitive atmosphere of the college campus. Therefore, it’s safe to say with UC Davis being one of the top ten public universities in the nation, some level of competition is present. Our school is taking numerous actions to remedy the effect that this level of competition is having on the mental well-being of some students. One is a subproject called Each Aggie Matters, which is part of California’s Mental Health Movement outlined in California Proposition 63. The goal of this program is to have an “open and affirming dialogue about mental health.”
I remember my freshman year at Davis when looking for counseling outlets there was the peer-run House and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), which is the official campus counseling organization. Now in my third year, I feel as if there are a lot more venues through which you can participate in the mental health discussion. Recently a club was formed called the National Alliance on Mental Illness at UC Davis that aims to raise awareness and reduce stigmas associated with mental illnesses. There is also a group called Out of the Darkness Now which is part of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and is known for the annual walks they put together to raise awareness. Another effort to increase mental health awareness has come from the UC Davis Health System, which is using a $7.5 million-dollar donation from CA Prop 63 to construct a behavioral health center on the Sacramento campus. The goals of this center include finding alternatives to hospitalization and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness. That these services exist is great, but they mean nothing if we don’t participate in them. It might be uncomfortable to publically acknowledge your feelings but they always say that the most important step is just showing up.
In Walt Whitman’s movie Damsels in Distress he portrayed a group of girls as mental health vigilantes who would go around campus distributing free soap and giving out free dance lessons, because both were perceived to lift spirits. I’m not so sure that being happy is as easy as doing a made-up dance called the Sambola or smelling nice, but I do know that opening up can be very cathartic and that you don’t have to go through college alone.
If you want to pass out soap with the intention of making people’s’ day you can contact NICOLE NELSON at firstname.lastname@example.org.