COC sheds light on depression and mental health

“Shine a Light” kicked off Mental Health Awareness Month at the College of Canyons. In an effort to spread awareness on suicide and dispel the stigmas associated with mental health, the school placed more than 1,100 lanterns in the Honor Grove to represent the 1,100 college students that lose their lives to suicide every year (Credit: Brennon Dixson)

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, College of the Canyons is hosting various events this week to spread awareness on suicide and dispel the stigmas associated with mental health.

The “Shine a Light” event kicked off the celebration as it lit up the campus with lanterns for suicide awareness on Tuesday and Wednesday night. Over 1,100 lanterns were placed in the Honor Grove to represent the 1,100 college students that lose their lives to suicide every year.

The college will also hold multiple training courses pertaining to subjects like depression, suicide, human trafficking and more. Prior to the annual Ask the Psychiatrist event happening Wednesday, presenter Priscilla Benites held the Suicide Prevention Intervention and Response Training.

The session helped participants identify early warning signs of suicide and teach constructive ways to support loved ones or where to locate community resources.

“There is still a stigma attached to mental health,” Benites said during the training. “My job is to erase that stigma.”

Eighty percent of the people who attempted suicide showed warning signs, the mental health advocate shared, “which is why it’s important to know the symptoms and how to help.”

Eight students at College of the Canyons have attempted suicide since 2013, Benites presented. She said the problem is not limited to the campus’ boundaries, evident in the fact that suicide is the second leading killer among people aged 10 to 24-years-old.

“Other published studies report that about 25 percent of all U.S. adults have a mental illness and that nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime,” the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports. “The economic burden of mental illness in the United States is substantial—about $300 billion in 2002.”

Depression can affect anybody, Benites said. “When somebody suffers from depression, life is too much to bear and that’s when suicide creeps in.”

Bullying, family stress and loss, which can take many forms, are a few factors that could affect the mental health of children, adolescents and even the elderly. Trauma, brain injuries and a lack of fish oil are only a few of the risk factors associated with mental health problems.

Athletes, celebrities and children across the world feel the effects of depression and suicidal thoughts every day, Benites said. “Four out of five people who attempted suicide showed warning signs, which is why its paramount that people learn the symptoms and signs.”

Hearing a friend say “you’d be better off without me in your life” should be an easy tell that they are internally struggling, Benites said. “To a depressed person, these thoughts seem very real.”

One might feel as though nobody understands them, she added. If so, “get them help, and if they’re unwilling, then contact a family member.”

Sharing details of abuse can have a big impact on families and the ones who are sharing their stories. Disbelief, confusion and guilt can lead a person to feel as though they lack a support group, which is often needed to help make their seemingly big problems feel smaller.

Victims of abuse who are struggling with mental health difficulties sometimes avoid seeking out help because they believe the hospital, group therapy and medicine aren’t always the best plan of action for handling the situation. However, Benites said every student enrolled at the College of the Canyons has access to the Student Health and Wellness Center, which can provide the necessary resources needed to find help for those struggling with mental health.

“Depression can be so debilitating that it prevents you from reaching out,” Benites said. Friends should recognize these behaviours and listen non-judgmentally, while offering reassurance and empathizing not criticizing.

Mental Health Awareness Month continues for the remainder of May. The college will hold a “Mental Health First Aid” course from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, which will teach participants to identify the risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems. Attendees will be awarded a certificate at the end of the day.

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