Students and faculty came together in remembrance of those they have lost to suicide at the Survivors of Suicide Candlelight vigil last night in the Circle.
Rebels for Suicide Prevention and the University Counseling Center planned the vigil, and the counseling center set up a table, passed out tea candles and shared pamphlets on suicide prevention. Attendees could pin a photo or card to a memory board in commemoration of anyone close to them who lost his or her life to suicide.
The vigil was held in honor of suicide attempt survivors and of those who have lost family or friends to suicide, as well as to increase awareness and erase the stigma surrounding suicide.
Graduate assistant Bianca Abney, a member of the counseling center’s Suicide Prevention program, opened the night.
“The purpose of this event is to come together as a community, so we can all remember the ones we have lost to suicide,” Abney said. “Our hope is to end the stigma around mental health and know the warning signs around suicide like anxiety and depression.”
Rebels for Suicide Prevention president Elizabeth Long said suicide takes the lives of 44,000 Americans every year and is the tenth leading cause of death in America.
“These are statistics, but behind each statistic is a person. The purpose of tonight is to raise awareness and decrease the stigma, but most importantly, remember those we have lost to suicide and those who are suicide attempt survivors, like myself,” she said. “As suicide attempt survivors and survivors of suicide loss, it is our job to share the stories of those that never got to be told in hopes of saving someone else.”
Long is the survivor of a suicide attempt during her junior year of high school. She said after realizing there was not a student-led organization for suicide prevention, she worked to establish Rebels for Suicide Prevention in order to raise awareness about suicide on campus.
“I hope that we can end the stigma around mental health and start the conversation, and I want to let people that they are not alone,” Long said.
Long urges anyone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts or who has lost a family member to reach out to a friend or a doctor and receive the help they need to get better.
Pam Smith, Ole Miss Student Union administrative coordinator and member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, shared the story of losing her son, Scott, to suicide and explained that it encouraged her to speak out against suicide.
“I go around to speak to anyone and everybody at the schools to get them to understand that there are going to be things that happen in your life, but that’s not the reason to leave this world,” Smith said.
After Smith shared her story, students and faculty at the vigil lit tea candles and held a moment of silence to remember the people who lost their lives to suicide. As Andra Day’s “Rise Up” played, most stood silently while others cried.
Junior psychology major Emily Haupt said she was motivated to come to the vigil by her desire to join the Rebels for Suicide Prevention and honor her friend and uncle who she lost to suicide.
“I was studying, I got the call that my friend, who I’ve known since kindergarten and was out in California living her dream of modeling, singing and dancing with a full scholarship to USC, had taken her life,” Haupt said. “Even now, it’s so unreal because you think there are very obvious signs, but a lot of the time it’s the people who seem the happiest.”
Haupt said she wants to fight back against the idea that suicide is a selfish action, and she hopes to work in psychology and mental health advocacy in order to help erase the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide.
“I’m here in her honor and to spread the word … a month ago my uncle took his life, as well,” she said.
For students who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts or struggling to cope with loss from suicide, the counseling center is available to students free of cost. It is located in Lester Hall where students can walk in or call to schedule an appointment. The counseling center’s hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for students in crisis. There is also an on-call counselor available at all times through UPD by calling 662-915-7234.