Cal Poly’s Pride Center wants to teach students, faculty and staff how to prevent suicides on campus.
There have been 11 suicides within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Ally (LGBTQIA) community nationwide since August. The Pride Center will host its prevention workshop today in hopes of putting a stop to the deaths, Pride Center Coordinator Jessica Cresci said.
This year is the first time the center will host a workshop like this, as part of campus’ ALIVE! Mental Health Week. The Pride Center is putting on the event because of the recent suicides and to increase awareness about suicide, its warning signs and prevention, Cresci said.
“It’s something we don’t talk about much and I think we need to bring it to life,” she said.
Members of the LGBTQIA community are four times as likely to commit suicide as those who identify as straight, Cresci said. More than one-third of LGBTQIA youth have attempted suicide.
Though the 11 suicides received heavy media coverage, Cresci said suicide is generally seen as a taboo subject and one that the nation needs to address head-on. She said she wants to make the warning signs more clear and make resources more accessible.
Psychology professor Charles Slem, whose general psychology course covers suicide and mental illness, said suicide warning signs aren’t hard to see.
“Warning signs are radical changes in mood,” he said.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline said warning signs also include heavy use of drugs and alcohol, giving away possessions, talking about death, feeling hopeless and/or isolated and becoming withdrawn.
Cresci said she wants the warning signs to be common knowledge within the Cal Poly community.
“I really want this to be an awareness workshop, not just prevention,” she said.
The biggest problem with suicides, especially the recent ones she said, is that most of them are preventable.
“I’ve heard a lot of people who’ve committed suicide and had their friends and family known some of the warning signs, it probably could have been prevented,” Cresci said.
The workshop will not just be geared toward LGBTQIA students but toward anyone who wants to learn about preventing suicide, she said.
While suicide is prominent in the news, the national suicide rate is relatively low. The American Association of Suicidology said there are an estimated 34,000 suicides in the United States annually.
“Statistically, we can expect one or two suicides on campus every year,” Slem said. “And Cal Poly is pretty consistent in that.”
Suicide is often brought on by feelings of hopelessness, she said. The National Association of Mental Health said other causes include failure, rejection, disappointment and loss.
Both Cresci and Slem said the cluster of suicides could be attributed, in part to media coverage and the attention the deaths received.
“It’s called the contagion effect,” Slem said. “Because things get publicized, it primes people who are at risk already.”
Slem said media often glorify suicide, giving society a romantic “Romeo and Juliet” view of it.
Part of the reason there is so much media coverage, Cresci said, is because so many of the suicides revolve around bullying.
Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, jumped off the George Washington Bridge in September after his roommate recorded him in a sexual encounter with another man and made it public by sharing it with his friends and posting it on the Internet.
Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old Tehachapi boy hung himself from a tree after being bullied for being gay. Despite complaints from both him and his parents, the school reportedly never took action against the bullies.
Cresci said bullies, especially at such a young age, are hard to discipline.
“It’s really hard to take action against those bullies,” she said. “They don’t take words as seriously as others.”
Slem said he hopes the Pride Center can be a haven for those who feel bullied, so they can get help and support before they feel helpless.
Cresci said she has the same hope. She said she would like to see Cal Poly become a more comfortable and accepting environment.
“We’re talking about ways to make a difference and ways to make Cal Poly a more comfortable climate,” she said.
The ultimate goal of the workshop, Cresci said, is to make sure everyone is aware of their resources.
“I want people to notice the warning signs,” she said. “And I want to give them the tools to cope with them.”
If the workshop can make the difference in one person’s life, Cresci said, it will have done its job.
The workshop will take place today from 12 to 2 p.m. in room 219 in the University Union (UU). It is free and open to the public.