Counseling Center and UA students host suicide awareness event

The event provided resources and information to students at the university.

By Sara Wilson
News Reporter

Claire Dimitri wished she knew what signs to look for before her sister attempted suicide during her sophomore year in college.

The junior psychology major said she knew her sister had struggled with depression for years, but did not understand the depth and extent to her suffering.

“No matter how hard life gets, there is always a reason to be here,” she said while speaking at a suicide awareness event on March 31.

Dimitri helped plan the event, sponsored by the Counseling Center and the Delta Omicron chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta, with the aim of providing resources and information to students at the University of Alabama.

Death by suicide is the second leading cause of death for people 10 to 34 years old, according to the CDC. The Alabama Department of Public Health reported that in 2016, 59 people between 20 and 24 years old died by suicide.

The event was originally a walk planned for March 3, but it was canceled because of inclement weather. When the possibility of rain threatened to shutter the event again, Dimitri and the planning team decided to move it indoors. Instead of an awareness walk from the Counseling Center to the Walk of Champions, the event was a resource fair for students.

Ellery Wiemer, a senior studying international business, said the event was especially important to Theta because two members died by suicide, one in 2014 and one last December before winter break. She said that although the chapter has hosted informational and healing events for itself, they wanted to extend that effort to the entire campus.

“The walk creates more awareness, but this is more factual and may have more effects in the long run,” she said.

Facilitators at 10 tables disseminated information and led activities related to suicide prevention, self-affirmation, and on-campus care methods. At one table, attendees made DIY stress balls with balloons and sand. At another, they outlined a self-care plan that prompted the writer to list positive attributes about themselves and brainstorm pastimes that center them. White paper bags illuminated by tea lights had platitudes scrawled on them in colorful marker: “They can’t rescue you if they don’t know you are drowning,” and “Keep holding on, just stay strong.”

Midway through the hour-long event, speakers addressed the crowd of nearly 300 mostly Greek-affiliated students. Greg Vander Wal, the executive director of the counseling center, promoted two prevention trainings so that students can learn the signs and procedures for dealing with suicidal ideation. Ask, Listen, Refer and Question, Persuade, Refer are tools for students to help identify at-risk individuals and get them appropriate help. They are both accessible on the Counseling Center’s website.

Brett Crumble, a freshman member of Alpha Sigma Chi, said he attended the event to support Dimitri and earn a Greek Point. Once he engaged with the tables, however, he saw the significance in raising awareness.

“As college students, we are under a lot of stress and that can be a main factor of why people commit suicide,” he said. “It’s good to reach a lot of students and inform them about what they can do to help themselves.”

This event is just the start to Dimitri’s interest in improving the mental health conversation on campus. She is on a planning board with the Counseling Center to begin an educational campaign in the fall semester. In addition to spreading awareness about the signs of risk, she said she wants to push for a greater emphasis on the campus mental health resources during Bama Bound orientation sessions.

“I just want people to know they aren’t alone throughout this,” she said. “They aren’t alone in their mental health or feeling the way they do. We have all gone through tough times. People get through this.”

If you need help for yourself or someone else, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or visit the UA Counseling Center’s website at www.counseling.sa.ua.edu.