Talk Saves Lives: How I’m Educating the Next Generation of Nurses
May 6, 2022 – 3 min read
This Volunteer Spotlight Story originally appeared in AFSP’s 2021 Annual Report. To read other inspiring Volunteer Spotlight Stories, and learn more about our exciting work, click here.
What first made you interested in mental health and suicide prevention?
My interest in helping those with mental health challenges originated when I was working as a Registered Nurse in an inpatient psychiatric unit. I worked with families who struggled to understand the dynamics of their loved ones who were experiencing distress. This taught me the need for greater education and advocacy. When I moved from clinical nursing practice to academia, I had the privilege of teaching mental health nursing to future nurses. We see people in all care settings with mental health needs.
On a personal level, I had experienced a period of hopelessness and helplessness when I first moved to the U.S., after fleeing from my homeland in Sri Lanka due to the civil war. I have also seen students and close friends struggle. Learning about young people ending their own lives in our area in recent years made a deep impression in my heart. I wanted to do something to make a difference.
How did you first get involved with your local chapter?
I am intentional about incorporating mental health and resiliency into our nursing curriculum. I first reached out to my local AFSP chapter in 2017, because I wanted to bring the Talk Saves Lives program to campus. It was then that I became a volunteer, inspired by the Project 2025 goal of reducing the suicide rate by 20% by 2025. I chaired our first Out of the Darkness Campus Walk, and eventually became a board member, enabling me to focus more on bringing suicide prevention education to our community.
How have you used AFSP’s education programs on your campus?
In addition to being Director of the First-Year Seminar program, I’m also an advisor for the Mental Health Advocate Team (MHAT) on campus, which is a student-led club formed after a few students reached out to me after our first Out of the Darkness Campus Walk. I’ve incorporated both Talk Saves Lives and the It’s Real: College Students and Mental Health film on campus.
Through Talk Saves Lives, participants gain insight into why people reach a point where they want to end their lives, and learn the warning signs and how to respond. It naturally leads to conversations about protective factors and building resiliency. I appreciate the research-based curriculum. The program is easy to understand, and the common language used to deliver the content helps make it accessible for participants.
I use the It’s Real documentary in my student leader training and first-year seminar classes. Learning about real stories of students across the country who thrive in college with mental health challenges is inspiring, and emphasizes the importance of seeking help and utilizing available resources on campus.
What does the phrase #MentalHealth4All mean to you?
We are created as holistic beings, meaning we need to have a healthy balance of all the aspects of who we are: physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, and social. I think #MentalHealth4All means that if we neglect our mental health, it will affect our overall well-being, and we lose the ability to live a healthy and happy, balanced life.