“Thanks to being a Mental Health First Aider, I feel empowered to fight for my community to increase its ability to prevent and intervene in suicidal acts on our campus.” These words were written by me in an article titled Increasing Shared empowerment and Responsibility: My Quest as a Mental Health First Aider after my campus (San Jose State University) experienced its second traumatizing public suicide completion in our Martin Luther King Jr. – SJSU Library. It was an event that created emotional weariness for the entire student community, as well as hypervigilance for faculty and staff as it casted a gloom over the start of our spring 2017 semester. There were a myriad of initiatives made by the administration and faculty that provided students some hope, but the impact resonated differently when SJSU’s chapter of Active Minds hosted a wonderfully received Send Silence Packing event that was presented on San Jose State University’s Tower Lawn on April 21st .
I was ecstatic to volunteer, and on the day of the event I woke up early in the morning to commute to campus and arrive by 6:30 am to lay 1,100 of donated backpacks onto the dewy green grass: each one representing the number of college students who die by suicide each year. As the first wave of Spartans arrived to campus to shuffle to their 7:30am classes, each backpack caught their eyes. Some students glanced momentarily and continued towards their destinations, but the majority of others stopped to ask me and fellow Active Minds members what these backpacks symbolized. As a team, we strategized to share the statistic of college students dying by suicide, but to place greater emphasis on the importance of how to identify if a friend, loved one, or stranger is in a crisis and is contemplating dying by suicide. Additionally, I was responsible for researching data about the antecedents, attempts, and completion rates for my Santa Clara County community – a skill that interning for San Mateo County truly reinforced – composing informational flyers, and verbally sharing the facts!
The amount of buy-in I witnessed was only the tip of the iceberg. Before my volunteer shift ended, I saw hundreds of students and dozens of community members stop to discuss the facts, read the stories of those who had passed away, and learn more about how to help others in need. The day after the event, I received an email recounting how thousands of students engaged with our work, which brought me such a salient feeling of peace of mind to know that by working together we accomplished connecting with our campus and neighborhood communities to speak up about the importance of more people having better awareness of the signs of suicide. I felt peace of mind because through the sorrow we all felt, we created a huge impact, and now I am motivated to help more Spartans become certified Mental Health First Aiders like me!
Written by: Chenece Blackshear