After the death of Derek Durand last fall, Slippery Rock University became more aware of the severity of mental disorders, leading the student organization Active Minds to sponsor suicide awareness week putting all eyes on student suicides in his honor.
According to Erica Bendel, sophomore Therapeutic Recreation major, 20, who is the President of the Slippery Rock University’s chapter of Active Minds, Alison Malmon started the organization when her brother experienced a mental disorder and committed suicide. This small organization grew into a national non-profit with many college chapters and their goal is to bring awareness to mental disorders, Bendel said.
From April 30 to May 2, a display was held on the quad.
“We made 1,100 purple flags and placed them in the quad with clothes to represent the number of college students who commit suicide in a year,” explained Bendel.
While this was a demonstration to bring awareness about mental disorders, senior Recreation Therapy major, Abbey Sawl, 21, Treasurer of Active Minds, explained that after the display all the clothing will be donated to those who need them.
The suicide awareness week ended with speaker, David Romano, a sophomore Social Work major from the University of Wisconsin in River Falls and member of the Active Minds Speaker Bureau, talking about his experience with depression.
According to Romano, when he was younger his idea of being a man came from his father and three older brothers.
“I remember my dad getting a big splinter, I thought he might as well have had the tree in him, and just pulling it out without flinching, and that was my first idea of what it meant to be a man,” Romano said.
According to Romano, when he was around eight years old he started to realize that he was not like his father and began to feel self-conscious because he was different. For this reason, he became involved with athletics but continued to feel self-conscious along with the added pressure that sports put on him, according to Romano.
“I found myself while playing basketball and when I would jump to make a basket I would purposely land on the side of my foot to break my leg, this all to stop feeling the pressure,” Romano explained. When Romano entered high school he thought that the best way to get rid of the pressure and feel more normal was to join more than just athletics. According to Romano, he decided to join football, basketball, and track while he also joined drama club, participated in public speaking, and joined choir.
It was not until he was in his sophomore year of high school that he realized that he had depression. “It was in my health class when a worksheet was handed out with symptoms of depression listed and I realized that I had most of the symptoms,” Romano explained. According to Romano he brought the paper to his mom and then they headed to the doctor where he was diagnosed with depression.
“I was embarrassed, I even made my mom promise not to tell anyone, not my family, friends, or anyone,” Romano said. He just wanted to get it all done, get the counseling, and the medication and be cured said Romano. When the therapy did not work, according to Romano, he stopped going and decided to relieve the pressure by quitting all his activities, so he ended up spending all his free time alone.
According to Romano, this was the point where he tried to feel anything so he turned to stealing, which ultimately led to him getting arrested. “The night I was arrested was the night that I planned by suicide,” Romano said.
The reason that he did not go through with his plan was the thought that his family would have found him, and he would have continued to cause them pain, he said.
“I then turned to literally beating myself up, with cutting and even hitting myself in the head, so that I could be man enough to beat depression,” he said.
It was not until he was called into the counselor’s office and found his father there that he faced the truth that he needed help, he said. Romano saw his father cry for the first time in that office. “I saw Superman cry,” Romano explained.
From that point on, he got the help he needed by finding the right therapist and finding coping mechanisms which helped with the depression. He turned to writing in a journal, spending time with supportive friends, and going to therapy on a regular basis, explained Romano.
After being able to gain control over his depression, he became an advocate for mental disorders and eventually created a chapter of Active Minds on his college campus.
“Society believes that men, especially athletes, should have a John Wayne, stoic personality to maintain manliness, but true men ask for help when necessary,” Romano said. The stigma needs to be broken down and the conversation about mental disorders needs to be started so that support can be given.