College Observes Suicide Prevention Week

Each year in the United States alone, an estimated 1,100 college-aged students commit suicide. In fact, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24 years. 

Erica DeBlase, outreach coordinator and clinician in the Mount Holyoke counseling service, says that, despite these staggering statistics, too many people remain silent about mental illness, bullying, and suicide. This month the College will host a weeklong series of events designed to increase awareness about these issues.

“Even in the past week, there have been tragic headlines about Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12-year old girl who committed suicide in Florida after being the victim of relentless online bullying,” DeBlase said. “We’re getting ready to kick off our main event, 1,100 Lights, 1,100 Lives, for Suicide Prevention Awareness Week, to draw attention to this national problem that impacts us all in the hope that we can build a community of support for those who are struggling and possibly contemplating suicide.”

Since 2010, the College counseling service has worked to facilitate increased outreach efforts related to suicide prevention. Last September, Linda Shippie, the western Massachusetts coordinator from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) came to campus to share the Lifesaver Quilt, which was displayed in Blanchard Campus Center on World Suicide Prevention Day. Resources, informational statistics, and public service announcements were all provided for students and community members, and a small group of Mount Holyoke students participated in the annual AFSP's Out of Darkness 5K walk in Springfield.

“This year, we’re pleased to announce the official registration of our very own Active Minds chapter here on campus,” DeBlase reported. “Active Minds at Mount Holyoke College is part of the national advocacy group Active Minds, founded by Allison Malman, whose brother Brian committed suicide in 2000 at the age of 23. Active Minds is dedicated to increasing education and awareness related to mental illness and decreasing stigma and barriers on college campuses.”

Since the month of September is dedicated to suicide prevention awareness, DeBlase and colleagues have scheduled events and activities spanning the week of September 22–29. An installation of twinkling lights, titled: 1,100 Lights, 1,100 Lives, will be displayed on Skinner Green in front of Blanchard Campus Center, beginning September 22. Messages of hope will be interspersed with the lights, according to DeBlase. 

“We’re inviting individuals to walk beneath the canopy of lights to view and reflect on each light representing a life lost to suicide,” she said.

Among the various activities planned for the week are:

  • Show Your Purple Day, Tuesday, September 24: wear purple to show your support of suicide prevention;
  • A TABOO dialogue on suicide and stigma on Tuesday, September 24 at 4:30 pm in Blanchard Lounge;
  • A candlelight vigil in remembrance of those lost to suicide on Wednesday, September 25 at 6:30 pm on Skinner Green (in the event of rain, Abbey Chapel);
  • A film screening of Call Me Crazy, featuring Jennifer Hudson and Brittany  Snow, on Thursday, September 26 at 7 pm in Dwight 101;
  • A guided meditation session on Saturday, September 28 at 1 pm in Abbey Chapel Sanctuary;
  • And van transportation for a group of students to the annual AFSP Out of Darkness 5K walk in Springfield.

Said DeBlase, “It is our hope that these activities and events will help spawn more discussion, outreach, and advocacy on our campus related to suicide prevention.”