Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students, with approximately 1,100 suicides taking place on college campuses annually. About 40% of people know of someone who has attempted suicide, and 25% know of someone who has died as a result of it.
Despite this, the topic remains taboo. Minnesota State’s Center for Rural Behavioral Health, partnered with suicide survivor Emma Benoit, is working to break that stigma.
MSU’s Center for Rural Behavioral Health held an event Monday in hopes of educating attendees on suicide, its effects and how to prevent it. The occasion included a film screening of a portion of “My Ascension,” by Emma Benoit, as well as a panel afterwards aiming to answer any potential questions.
Thad Shunkwiler, director of the Center for Rural Behavioral Health, says that although the conversation is an unpleasant one to have, it still must be had so that more can be educated about the growing problem of suicide in young adults, and be made aware of available resources.
“It’s unfortunate that we even have to have these conversations. But the reason that we are is that we are seeing an increase in suicidality and completed suicides, particularly among young people. Our campus isn’t immune to that,” Shunkwiler said.
“My Ascension,” the film screened at the event, covers Benoit’s story of surviving a suicide attempt in her teens that left her paralyzed from the waist down. The incident propelled Benoit on a mission to use her pain and recovery to help others find hope.
That hope, according to Shunkwiler, is the most powerful tool when it comes to building, maintaining or repairing one’s mental health. To him, the power of hope is the main theme behind the film, and the driving force behind the event.
“It’s OK to not be OK. When people are in that place where suicide is something they’re thinking about, it’s awful. It’s oftentimes a very hopeless place. And I think Emma’s story shows in a very powerful way, the power of hope,” Shunkwiler said.
After the screening, a panel consisting of many mental health professionals assembled to answer any possible questions. Starting the process of getting help can be a daunting process, but the panel aimed to break down that barrier, offering listeners access to mental health resources and more.
“Oftentimes people may not be aware of what’s available or they may be intimidated about starting that process of asking for help. So I think anytime you can put a face and a person behind a title, it often breaks down those barriers,” Shunkwiler said.
Even if just one person at the event retains the message and takes it home with them, Shunkwiler considers the panel a success.
Some of the resources available on campus at MSU include the Counseling Center, Student Health Services, and campus security.
“The only way you move through emotional difficulty is through talking about it. Understandably, this is one of the more difficult things to talk about. The power of this event is that you’re going to hear from people who have suffered loss from suicide, and share their story, normalize that story, and encourage more people to access help and to seek help when they need it,” Shunkwiler said.
Header Photo: Emma Benoit (right) survived a suicide attempt as a teen, and has made it her mission to share her story and inspire hope to anyone. Dr. Patrick Bigaouette (left) and Dr. Lisa Hardesty further provided advice on mental health. (Dylan Engel/The Reporter)
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