More than one thousand colorful paper lanterns covered College of the Canyon’s Honor Grove Tuesday, acting as a visual representation for the 1,100 U.S. college students who lost their lives to suicide during the past year.
Presented by the college’s Health and Wellness Center, the annual two-day “Shine A Light” event aims to bring attention to the number of students who die by suicide each year and provide campus visitors with access to local mental health resources.
“It helps students speak out,” COC Health and Wellness Center Priscilla Benites said. “We need to do more outreach to raise awareness that we’re here to help and that they are not alone.”
Surrounding the hundreds of lanterns were fliers that encouraged struggling students to seek help and included statistics about the number of students who battle with mental health, depression and suicide each year.
Benites said the Health and Wellness Center also offers counseling and therapy to its students year-round.
“They can come in any time on a walk-in basis and can be seen that same day,” she said.
During the event, staff from the Health and Wellness Center, Child and Family Center, Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) distributed information about suicide prevention and awareness and about the resources available to students at each location.
Joi Takahashi, a NAMI family support group leader and teacher, said the organization offers information on its website about mental illness as well as classes and support groups for the community each week.
“Everything is confidential,” she said. “We always tell them that suicide is a side effect of any mental illness and it has to be realistically dealt with and to be aware of the risks associated with it.”
This year, the Shine A Light event was made possible with grant funding provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Tuesday’s presentation of Shine A Light also included a keynote address from guest speaker Dr. Mark Goulston, a suicide expert, mentor, writer and coach.
Goulston’s keynote included a chapter from his book, “Talking to Crazy,” that detailed a letter from a man, Jack, to his parents about his struggles with mental health and suicide.
“What suicide is, is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” Goulston said to the lecture hall of attendees. “What I’ve learned is I think people kill themselves from despair… It means feeling unpaired with a future, unpaired with hope, unpaired with help.”
To help someone struggling with suicide, Goulston encouraged the audience to “pair with” an individual and what they are feeling so they do not feel as alone.
He also advised the audience to consider their tone of voice and to share their own struggles with others.
“Tone is probably much more important than what you’re saying,” he said. “And there is a power to vulnerability.”
If you or someone you know needs help, take action now by calling the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), The Los Angeles county Department of Mental Health’s Access Center Helpline at 800-854-7771 or 911. All services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_