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Suicide matters: why we need to open up the discussion of mental health

National Suicide Prevention Day is on the 10th of September. (Jared Keener/Flickr)

National Suicide Prevention Day is on the 10th of September. (Jared Keener/Flickr)

By the time you have finished reading through this newspaper, someone in America will have committed suicide.

In 2013, somebody committed suicide in America every 12.8 minutes, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. As a community, we need to acknowledge just how present suicide is in our lives, and as individuals, we need to work on bettering ourselves. As part of these endeavors, we need to eliminate the negative stigma that surrounds mental health discussions. We need to acknowledge that mental health is just as important as physical well-being and that seeking help is not an admittance of weakness.

For so many people, it seems like image is everything. People want to fit in at any cost – we wear the newest fashions even if we don’t like them, we go to the gym to get the ideal body but we never discuss mental health. In my opinion, once we start discussing mental health and accepting therapeutic treatments as the norm, suicide rates will plummet and people will feel more comfortable seeking help and solving problems rather than ending them out of fear.

I take this matter extremely seriously and wish to see a change in public perception soon. In my life, I have felt the direct effects of three suicides. When I was 13, my mother’s best friend committed suicide, leaving her family, including her three teenage children, wondering what they could have done to prevent it.

At 18, a friend and former high school classmate of mine committed suicide, which left many questions unanswered: What was wrong? What made you do this? Why? His death left a community in shock. After that experience, I tried to become active in suicide prevention, but didn’t know how to begin. I thought that offering a helping hand to those who seemed to need it was enough.

On Jan. 1, I got the news that one of my classmates from high school had passed away. Not many details were known, but one thing was clear: it was suicide. For the first time in my life, I knew that a change needed to happen and it needed to be immediate. In that moment, I realized that just being nice and lending a hand wasn’t enough.

I logged onto the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website and searched for ways to make a change. The website enlightened me. It has tabs on what to do if you feel suicidal, if you know somebody who needs help and it also provides links for survivors of suicide attempts and for those who know someone who has taken his or her own life.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention holds overnight walks in cities and campus walks in colleges across the country. On March 29, there will be an “Out of the Darkness” campus walk to raise awareness of the AFSP at the University of Massachusetts track and field. I encourage every student on campus to attend. Registration starts at 9 a.m. By attending, students will be able to see those who have been directly and indirectly affected by suicide.

It seems grim to think about going to a walk to witness those who have been hurt, but there is always a hopeful vibe to these walks. As a participant of several of the walks, I can safely say that they are not as sad as one imagines. Discussions focus on how to prevent suicide and how to spread mental health awareness. Because so many of the people who attend the walks have been hurt by a friend or loved one’s death, they spread hope and optimism rather than despair.

I was extremely pleased to see that the UMass community voted to raise student fees by $7 to add extra staff for the Center for Counseling and Psychological Help. This change is one step in the right direction, but by no means does it solve the larger issue that exists off campus as well. When we go home for summer and winter breaks, we need to spread this message of acceptance to everyone in our home communities in order to build a world where people feel safe discussing their problems and feel comfortable seeking help. Please consider attending the AFSP campus walk and if you see somebody who needs help, help them.

Nicholas Trieber is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at ntrieber@umass.edu

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