Increasing Shared Empowerment and Responsibility: My Quest as a Mental Health First Aider

The week of January 29th was the first full week of classes at San Jose State University (SJSU). Personally, I was feeling scattered from trying to organize my life around balancing a full load of classes with my ODE internship and two other jobs. As I connected with my friends and new classmates, they spoke of experiencing similar stressors. Then suddenly the busy buzz within our campus atmosphere came to a standstill and was replaced with a feeling of somber eeriness. That Wednesday, everyone on campus received an alert stating our Martin Luther King, Jr. Library would be shut down for the rest of the day due to an investigation. Hours later we all were notified that the investigation because someone had completed suicide.

Our community’s emotions were stirred. This event marked the second suicide completion in our eight story study sanctuary. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Library is the heartbeat of Downtown San Jose and it has welcoming arms to the general Downtown San Jose neighborhoods, in addition to servicing students. The victim who completed suicide was a member of the general San Jose community. As my peers and I discussed our feelings regarding the event, I noticed that our campus community was experiencing a different and heightened sense of emotional vulnerability. It was a sense of helplessness.

However, in addition to feeling vulnerable, I felt frustrated because I realized that very few people I talked with knew how to identify signs of someone in crisis, despite the many supportive resources SJSU offers. Our campus has an amazing counseling and wellness center; our professors strongly advocate on behalf of those services, and our syllabi are required to state all of the ways students can get the support needed to overcome adversity. Still, I don’t believe many people on campus know what to do to help others.  Frankly, until I began my ODE internship I wouldn’t have known how to identify a person in crisis, either — let alone what I could do and say to help them. Being trained as a Mental Health First Aider within my first month of work really empowered me to understand how much of a difference I can make in my community’s life. So, in my conversations with others, I voiced my concerns and desire to create a change in our campus culture by breaking down the beliefs that only licensed professionals can impact the wellness of our campus community and neighborhoods. I voiced my desires to help publicize our campus need for Mental Health First Aid training for students and faculty.

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. We owe it to both students and community members to create as many protective factors as possible.

To learn more about Mental Health First Aid trainings in San Mateo County, contact Natalie Andrade, Program Coordinator – Office of Diversity and Equity, nandrade@smcgov.org, or  visit https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/cs/take-a-course/find-a-course/ .

Chenece Blackshear, ODE