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When Suicide Leading Cause of Death Among College Students What Message Does Spending Almost 50 Times More on Sports Programs Than Mental Health Send Students?
Post by Chandni Patel, Fundraising Intern, & Kerry Martin, CEO & Founder, Hope Xchange Nonprofit.
Suicide is the leading cause of death among college and university students is the US today with many students also struggling with suicidal thoughts and other mental health challenges (Suicide Prevention Resource Center). So you would think suicide and suicidal behaviors would be a major concern for colleges and universities particularly given this setting provides a unique opportunity for comprehensive suicide prevention planning; but, are they really stepping up to the plate?
In this post we take a look at Penn State, where a Hope Xchange intern, Chandni Patel, recently graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology & Neuroscience. She shared with me that 10 people jumped off campus buildings during her freshman year alone; and, that while she was there, Active Minds visited her campus with their exhibit “Send Silence Packing" (more on that below) which left an indelible impression on her. Chandni bravely shares her story and also why this is such an important issue for her personally.
Is Penn State Really “Sending Silence Packing”? - Perspective from Recent College Graduate
Mental health seems to be a rising concern in communities today. Universities in particular have started offering services to students to help them in keep their mental health intact so they can focus on what they are there for: building a career.
While these programs often include psychologists, psychiatrists, crisis hotlines, and other helpful resources, are schools really doing all they should be in terms of taking care of their students and their struggles?
In my opinion, definitely not.
I walked into Penn State’s HUB auditorium one grim April morning only to see backpacks lined up almost everywhere on the main floor. Naturally intrigued by this sight, I stepped closer. I thought they were having a lost and found for all the students who had lost their backpacks somewhere that past year, but instead I found stories of students lost to suicide scattered among the set up.
I almost crumpled into a pile of tears right there because not in my four years at Penn State had I ever witnessed anything like this. Never had there an outward declaration found anywhere on the campus that ignoring mental health was taking lives and we are somewhat responsible for it.
So, as I walked around the backpack maze, which represented the number of college students lost to suicide each year, I was proud of my school for once. I was proud that it had people in it, people who saw a problem and were deciding to do something about it.
As a sufferer of major depression myself, I saw a light in this movement that I thought had been extinguished through the years I had tried to get help at the Penn State health center, which ultimately failed me.
Spending on Sports Relative to Mental Health
In 2015, Penn State on average spent $122,271,407 on sports. In comparison, in 2016 Penn State spent $2,600,000 on its Counseling and Psychology Services (CAPS) program. Therefore, on average, Penn State is spending around 47 times more on sports than on mental health initiatives. And, I suspect, that this isn’t the only big state school that is guilty of doing so.
Spending big on sports brings in a lot of revenue for the school, but I hope that the backpacks sent a reminder to some people that there are things in this world more precious than money, and that includes the lives of the people we interact with every day.
My only question is when will universities finally imbibe this message and use their environment to create a safe space for struggling youth rather than capitalizing on activities that will not make a difference in the world?
Note On "Send Silence Packing" Exhibit
According to a CentreDaily.com article, Packing a Punch: Project Spotlights Student Suicide, the lounge area of the HUB-Robeson Cultural Center is usually filled with students: draped over chairs, studying, eating, catching a quick nap between classes, chatting with friends, living. However, on this Wednesday shown above, the space was filled with 1,100 backpacks, each one representing a college student lost to suicide.
An Active Minds project intended to bring attention to the sometimes silent suffering students endure until it is too late to reach them, the backpacks are arranged in rows, lined up in sections, artfully stacked and piled and hooked over backs of chairs pushed to the edges of the room. They were marked by laminated pages with pictures, names and stories. The main idea is to make the message more tangible by visually showing people it's not just about the numbers.
Read more about Active Mind's national campaign to use empty backpacks to show suicide reach's and symbolize the number of deaths associated with college suicide every year at college.usatoday.com.