Awareness week takes on suicide issue

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The second leading cause of death among college students in the United States is suicide.

In order to bring light to this issue on the UC Berkeley campus, the group Student-to-Student Peer Counseling organized Suicide Awareness Week this week, seeking to raise an understanding of mental health on campus.

"The point is to raise awareness about the prevalence of suicide on campus and to provide resources to people for either themselves or if they know someone who may need help," said Jasmine Mark, coordinator for Student-to-Student Peer Counseling.

On the UC Berkeley campus alone, UCPD has intervened in 16 suicide attempts since January of 2007, all of which occurred on campus property, according to UCPD Lt. Alex Yao.

According to Jeff Prince, director of the Tang Center's Counseling and Psychological Services, the rate of actual suicides of UC Berkeley students may be lower than average when compared to other campuses of similar size.

"We really want to emphasize and encourage people to seek help," Yao said. "There are a number of services available for students and staff. Prevention is key."

To further understand and prevent both depression and suicide, during Suicide Awareness Week, Student-to-Student Peer Counseling showed the documentary "Depression: Out of the Shadows" on Monday, a documentary showing how depression affects people of all ages and ethnicities.

On Wednesday, the group also organized a discussion between students and members of the UC Berkeley faculty to try to combat some of the stigma surrounding mental illness.

For students who may be experiencing depression, suicidal thoughts or both, there are several resources on campus, like the Tang Center Counseling and Psychological Services.

These Tang Center services have recently lost six staff members due to budget cuts, but Prince said the center has been able to improve resources and student access.

"In the last few years, we've rearranged our intake system so that students requesting help can get access to care very quickly, including a telephone interview where a student has a 15 to 20 minute phone call within 48 hours of their request," Prince said.

Hidy Jun, UC Berkeley junior, said she realized the importance of the Tang Center after experiencing a close friend's battle with mental health issues.

"I do really think that she should have gone to the Tang Center," Jun said of her friend. "I wish that people around knew the symptoms of depression. I wish that there was more outreach, and I wish that people knew about the Tang Center before they do something irrational. I wish that more people caught on to what was going on earlier so we could have helped prevent it."

In addition to assisting students who independently seek help, this past year the Tang Center has begun working with the Students of Concern Committee - a group that combines efforts from several sources on campus - in order to help connect students displaying signs of distress with the many resources available on campus.

The Office of the Dean of Students created the committee starting this year, and now operates under the direction of Assistant Dean of Students Hallie Hunt, who began her position March 14.

As the campus and organizers of Suicide Awareness Week seek to increase understanding about suicide, the topic is all too real for Daniel Chung, close friend of UC Berkeley junior Lawrence Park who died last February in an apparent suicide.

"He had a rough exterior, but inside when you got to know him, he was a true friend, which is really rare," Chung said. "Lawrence was one of those guys you could really talk to about everything.

"It came all of the sudden to me and everyone else, too," Chung continued. "To this day, I still don't really know what the real cause was. I guess I'll always want to know, but I don't think I'll ever really be satisfied with an answer."


Contact Jessica at [email protected]

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