by Colton Campbell

One at a time, a dozen people sit in a chair against a black background and just talk.

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A member of the UWG community shares how suicide has affected her life

With this simple act, they’re showing that even though they’re not here to save the world, they may save some lives along the way.

In its continuing effort to destigmatize issues surrounding mental health in its students and the residents of the community it serves, the University of West Georgia has launched a suicide awareness and prevention campaign titled #UWGSpeaks to end the silence surrounding suicide.

Five of the 12 videos – featuring students, faculty and staff sharing their stories of how they’ve been affected by suicide in their lives ­– will be released on the university’s social media platforms over the next month.

In their respective videos, three participants shared the following advice to people affected by suicide:

Terri
I think what people don't understand is that by staying silent, they give the impression that nobody struggles with this. They don't know that lots of people suffer. I just wanted to encourage you to speak up and get help and just know that if you're struggling, there's help available.

Shelley
I want people to know if you’re in despair, life is going to change. I guarantee it. The one thing we can count on is that life will change. But if you take your life, it’s over. There’s no going back. There are so many people who love and care about you and want you to get help and go on and live a beautiful life.

Kyle
I encourage you to intervene, to be part of that process of healing, to end the silence. When you see someone struggling, encourage them to seek treatment and make sure they’re talking to people who can help them. Love each other.

Dr. Lisa Adams Somerlot, director of UWG’s Counseling Center, said suicide – the second-leading cause of death for Americans ages 15 to 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – has become a taboo topic because of its history of being immoral or, in some moments in history, illegal.

“The topic of suicide scares people, and humans tend to stay away from difficult topics,” Somerlot said. “People who are having suicidal thoughts don’t want to burden their loved ones, and loved ones who receive this information often don’t feel they have the skills to help. Unfortunately, when it’s happening to you – in your family, your friend group, your community – you can’t run away from it."

Somerlot’s hope for the campaign is to highlight options for support as approachable and accessible, saying that while asking for help takes a great deal of courage, it can save a person’s life.

“We want to take away the stigma of asking for help, opening up the conversation for people who have struggled, and that’s what this campaign will accomplish,” Somerlot said. “It’s important for our community to see that people being affected by suicide is not something that happens to someone else; it happens in our pack.

Somerlot said it’s powerful, then, for people who are connected to UWG to speak the truth of their lives because everyone sees someone they know and respect, which brings their message home.

Dr. Xavier Whitaker, associate vice president for student life and dean of students, said the #UWGSpeaks campaign is another opportunity for UWG’s faculty and staff to show how deeply they care about students’ success and wellbeing.

“Our priority has always been to foster a community of health and wellness at UWG, so students know they can communicate with us at any time and we’ll respond to give them proper resources and support to get the help they need,” Whitaker said. “It’s so important to make students and anyone know they’re not alone and that there are educators here to support them as part of a caring community in which there are resources for them to receive support.”

In particular, Whitaker highlighted the UWG Cares program, an online portal through which students, faculty, staff and others can share information on issues or events happening in their lives. Users of the portal can report an incident or concern, which is received by the Office of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.

“This initiative ensures we are available and responsive to help students understand they have a place in our community – that they belong – and that we’re here to transform their lives,” Whitaker said. “Campaigns like #UWGSpeaks tell our students, ‘You’re not alone. You live in a community full of people who care about you.’”

To speak with a counselor at UWG call 678-839-6428; if calling after hours, select option 2. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255/TALK (or 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish speakers), or find helpful resources at https://www.westga.edu/uwgcares/.

Videography by Melanie Fan and Steven Broome

Posted on March 25, 2019