Azusa Pacific community responds to suicide prevention month through important conversation.
Azusa Pacific students and faculty are making strides to spark the often stigmatized conversation about suicide and the leading causes of depression.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., and approximately 44,965 Americans die by suicide annually.
For the first time at Azusa Pacific, Curtis Lehman, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology is teaching a class on the psychology of suicide. The class is offered as a special topics course within the psychology department.
Lehman explained that through his preparation to teach the class, he became interested in not only the psychology of suicide but in the ways to prevent it.
“I want to show that I’m engaged in efforts to prevent suicide, and I wanted to do something proactively to help the APU community,” Lehman said.
On Sept. 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, Lehman, counseling faculty members and students came together to raise awareness on Cougar Walk with an info-booth. Students were invited to take photos posing with different signs to spread awareness. “#BeThere,” “#Take 5” and “#EmbraceTheAwkward” were phrases on some of the signage.
“I want the APU community to know that there is hope, and I want to equip them to be more supportive of one another,” Lehman said.
Lehman hoped the booth would increase awareness among students and faculty to learn about the warning signs of suicide. One of the myths of suicide is that it’s a selfish act, however, Lehman explained those who contemplate suicide perceive their existence to be a burden and believe they are relieving that burden from others around them.
“I want them to know how to ask and what to do in response when someone might be at risk of suicide,” he said. “We need to normalize the process of seeking out help for themselves, and to have less stigma around it.”
Nathaniel Fernandez, therapist and coordinator of outreach for the community counseling center, believes that when students are able to succeed and reach more educational opportunities, there is a heavy burden that comes with the stress of those responsibilities.
“I’m really passionate about building outreach efforts to get people to know more about how to take care of themselves and their friends, and so that’s why I’m so excited to be a part of this program that the counseling center and the Department of Psychology has collaborated on,” Fernandez said.
The preparation for the info-booth took a few months of planning and research, Fernandez revealed.
“It’s been a good process, and the results are showing with students who are participating and getting the message out instead of just walking by,” Fernandez said.
Joseph Henrich, a therapist at the community counseling center, believes making people aware of suicide is the first step to prevention.
“It’s something people don’t like to talk about, so just by being out here and having a positive smiling face, approaching people and being able to have an open conversation, that’s how we’re going to spread awareness,” Henrich said. “If we can help people know of the signs and reach out to their friends or people that might be feeling depressed, then maybe we can help to prevent a tragedy from occurring.”
Lehman also shed light on the rising issue of suicide coverage in the media. According to reportingonsuicide.org, “More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration and prominence of coverage.”
Coverage of suicide has had a slow increase, with many public figures struggling with mental health issues. Just last month, a Chino Hills pastor of a megachurch died to suicide. Last year, lead singer of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, died by suicide as well. Last week, Mac Miller died of a drug overdose. Demi Lovato was hospitalized after an overdose during the summer.
Senior nursing major Dalia Wilson believes mental health issues are often “left to the back-burner,” which has resulted in substance abuse and depression.
“People stigmatize and neglect the conversation, and sometimes they don’t even want to notice the signs,” she said. “When you start going into higher positions, there is more of a stigma to keep yourself composed, like if you’re a role model, or a pastor or famous person, they don’t seek help with the thought that they would be shamed or the fear of having the public talking about their personal business without being able to get the help they need.”
Suicide is often excluded from conversations in church, too. Many people believe that having a faith community and identity in God will cancel out depressive symptoms.
“Generally, the faith community and the relationship with God offers a sense of belonging, and it also offers a sense of purpose for their life,” Lehman said. “There are factors that can interfere with that, but there is a solution. Suicide can be prevented, it’s not just a mysterious thing we don’t have answers to. By taking action, the action can lead to a better outcome.”