Even a glimpse inside the College’s campus today shows that students and faculty alike have been affected by suicide. This past year, the campus experienced immense loss and is facing the challenge of how to respond and prevent future tragedies.
“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students,” says Mark Forest, the Director of Counseling and Psychological services.
This crisis does not only touch college campuses but permeates throughout American society.
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., with an estimated 1,400,000 suicide attempts in 2017, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
These statistics show that feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts are commonly experienced, and senior Kayla Mahns believes that one way to respond to this is by removing the stigma surrounding mental health.
“These stigmas make it really hard for people suffering to get the help that they need,” Mahns said. “If we can remove the stigmas surrounding them, people will not be afraid to ask for help which would reduce suicide rates among those with mental illnesses.”
Dr. Forest also agrees with Mahns that removing the stigma surrounding seeking help is critical.
As TCNJ is responding to the losses in the community, Dr. Forest thinks that having programs focus on mental health awareness and seeking help are important to provide information and remove stigmas.
“The cumulative effect of multiple losses can impact the community in a myriad of ways,” he said. “By coming together as a community, sharing our grief, learning about mental illness and mental health services, and learning about ways to channel our grief, we can support each other and facilitate the healing process.”
The College’s President Kathryn Foster sent out a recent email about campus health and healing. In it, she mentioned the annual THRIVE Expo, the Out of Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk, and a future mental health hotline.
Dr. Foster says each of the events mentioned in her email, “provides an opportunity to express emotions and practice resilience in a distressing time,” and that events that bring the campus together “allow us to nurture our strong and caring community, one person, emotion, and action at a time.”
The Out of Darkness Suicide Prevention walk was planned with the American Federation for Suicide Prevention, according to Dr. Foster. The walk is set on the same date as TCNJam, a large event attended by the majority of Greek Life on campus that benefits the B+ foundation in supporting the fight against childhood cancer.
“If you’re scheduling a walk like that, how are you not going to look to see if it conflicts with other events on campus?” asks senior Sarayu Srinivasan, “Now people are going to be forced to choose between the walk and TCNJam.” Srinivasan believes that more consideration should have been taken in the scheduling of the walk.
Although the school administration is working to raise mental health awareness through their programs and bringing more resources such as the mental health hotline, students like Srinivasan and Mahns believe not enough is being done.
“We could have had a community dialogue about the recent tragedies or a candlelit vigil for suicide prevention,” says Srinivasan.
Mahns says that though TCNJ offers great resources, “It is not enough. CAPS is currently understaffed for the amount of students who need the help.”
Senior Morgan Choma believes that along with CAPS, TCNJ should have a mental health task force for the students that CAPS is unable to immediately see.
“Even though the school tried their best to communicate these issues with the campus, more proactive measures can be taken to alleviate the stress CAPS is feeling,” she says.
The mental health task force could be the proactive measures to alleviate the stress on CAPS and bring more solutions throughout the semester, according to Choma.
Choma’s feels the task force should be student run, and she is working on gauging fellow interest in TCNJ students.
As the campus grieves and moves towards healing, it is apparent that TCNJ faculty is responding with an awareness of previous resources, new resources, and events. However, it is evident that some students believe that there is room for more to be done in response to the devastating community losses.
All photos courtesy of Julia Marnin.