Feb. 21, 2020 - My first year of college shined a spotlight on my mental health. As a student at UC Davis, I was a high-functioning individual with anxiety and depression. Leaving my support system of home and family to go on this grand adventure of independence and self-exploration led to an experience which, sadly, is not uncommon, because college student mental health is often overlooked.
Many college students undertake an intense and self-destructive routine to cope with what is a rigorous and unfamiliar environment. The sudden immersion into a fast-paced, academic lifestyle naturally leads to late nights in the library, too much coffee, and too much alcohol afterwards. When one of my suitemates made an attempt on his life a week prior to finals, I didn’t realize that a week later I would go on to have a similar experience myself.
From the years of 2013-2014, I was aimless and pained. It was during the many months after my own attempt that my determined and passionate friend Briana helped provide me with a sense of purpose regarding my experience. In 2014, Briana and I joined together with a group of other students who had been affected by suicide to create a group called Students Against Suicide. Briana was the captain of the ship for a few years, building it up while I processed and healed from my experience, and slowly worked my way through most of the active positions in the group: social media director, activities/volunteer director, and then president. As a student group, we worked with school counselors to put on student-centered International Survivors of Suicide Loss Survivor Day events, tabled at mental health events to provide resources to students, and worked with the college administration to further meet the needs of the student body.
Eventually, Students Against Suicide connected with our local chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. With their help and guidance, the UC Davis Students Against Suicide group has put on a successful campus Out of the Darkness Walk every year since 2015; advocated with administration on new programs and practices for student mental health services; and continues to create a safe space for all students, faculty and community members to discuss mental health. To this day, we still represent Davis on the board.
I worked alongside amazing people, using my own experience as an attempt survivor to help foster a supportive community on our campus. By my senior year, I was in a stronger place in terms of my mental health, and expanded my role, taking on the mantle of Students Against Suicide, leaning on previous presidents for their experience and support.
In 2018, during the fourth Out of the Darkness Campus Walk held at our school, I met the family of an alum who had died by suicide a couple of years earlier. His sister wanted to get my perspective because she had heard my story. That year, I had been the speaker for the Campus Walk opening ceremony. The alum’s sister connected with my story, and told me the way I had described my intense sadness and irrational thinking at my darkest moment sounded remarkably similar to her brother’s.
Suicide affects all people. It is indifferent to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. In some ways, my story and her brother’s were very different: mine was primarily fueled by family trauma, and his was more of an internal struggle. But the emotions and scars were very similar.
It is by sharing our experiences – as survivors of suicide loss, or those who struggle – that we are able to connect, provide empathy and understanding by saying, "Here is my darkest time, and thank you for sharing yours. Let's be together in this moment.” This is what we mean when we talk on social media about having a #RealConvo about mental health.
I recently graduated, and because I am so invested in the cause of suicide prevention, am pursuing clinical psychology. I continue to work with Students Against Suicide as the Davis representative board member to AFSP’S Greater Sacramento chapter.
The road ahead is long and full of mystery, but I am certain of a few things: that my advocacy and determination for suicide prevention will stay strong, that I will continue to remember those who have stoked my passion for the cause, and that I will try my hardest to offer a friendly smile to those whose journey of healing brings them alongside my own.