Universities across Western PA are bringing awareness to suicide and mental health by working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Typically events would be held per university, but the virtual environment has led to collaboration.
The AFSP’s mission statement is “a voluntary health organization that gives those affected by suicide a nationwide community empowered by research, education and advocacy to take action against this leading cause of death.”
Universities included in this virtual event are Slippery Rock University, Chatham University, Waynesburg University, Duquesne University, the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) and more.
Alison Vlasnik, a senior public health major at SRU, has taken lead in bringing these resources to the university. Vlasnik is considered the campus walk chair and communicates directly with AFSP.
There have been and will continue to be events helping to promote suicide awareness, the biggest event being the virtual walk happening on April 17. Typically these walks are hosted in person as a community experience, and some people even create teams during it, but to abide by COVID-19 guidelines the walk is happening virtually.
“Even though it’s virtual, we are encouraging people to walk with their family or a couple of friends or something like that,” Vlasnik said. “It doesn’t have to be by yourself.”
Participants are able to register for the walk online. There is no fee to sign up, but donations to AFSP are encouraged. When signing up, it is possible to choose being on the Slippery Rock team, which Vlasnik is the captain of.
“[People can] . . . designate Slippery Rock, unless they want to make their own team, because sometimes people make their own team to remember someone that they’ve lost to suicide,” Vlasnik said.
With spring on the way and the weather getting nicer, this is a great time for people to get involved with the suicide awareness walk. Of course, that’s not all to come and there are many more events happening leading up to the walk. When participants sign up, they will be provided with the information about the rest of the events.
Many college students have been struggling with mental health and the pandemic has made it harder for students.
According to AFSP, in 2019 there was a rate of 13.95% of people ages 15-24 who died by suicide. 2015 data shows that approximately 575,000 people were hospitalized for self-harm-related injuries. These are scary realities for students and people across the nation.
Vlasnik paired with the AFSP two years ago when they gave a presentation in her residence hall, and she has been involved in trying to bring awareness to these issues at SRU. She recognizes that these can be difficult topics to discuss, but she hopes to help fight the stigma around these conversations.
“We need to remember that everybody’s human, like, just because you have a disease, disorder, or whatever it is with mental health, we’re all still human,” Vlasnik said. “We need to start normalizing this.”