Public Affairs, The California State University

Taking the Lead in Mental Health Awareness

By Stephanie Thara

Cal State Long Beach was one of 22 CSU campuses that held a candlelight suicide awareness vigil on October 1. Hundreds of paper lanterns with words of encouragement were spread across the Maxson Plaza. (Photo courtesy of Michael Ares, Daily 49er)
Cal State Long Beach was one of 22 CSU campuses that held a candlelight suicide awareness vigil on October 1. Hundreds of paper lanterns with words of encouragement were spread across the Maxson Plaza. (Photo courtesy of Michael Ares, Daily 49er)

Fact: Approximately 1,100 college students die by suicide each year. It is the third leading cause of death among college students.

Suicide is a growing issue among college campuses, and the CSU is initiating programs and activities—from training workshops and suicide awareness campaigns—to better educate the campus community about mental health issues.

As part of the CSU Student Mental Health Initiative, campuses have coordinated workshops and trainings to teach faculty, staff and students how to recognize the signs and take the appropriate steps if a student appears to be struggling. Exercises include mental health first aid training, applied suicide intervention skills training and workshops on how to properly question, persuade and refer individuals who potentially suffer from mental health disorders.

“Our hope is that understanding mental health will be taken outside of the counseling center and onto the campus, where every single faculty member will have the ability to recognize the symptoms of mental illness,” said Ana Aguayo-Bryant, CSU Chancellor’s Office CalMHSA program manager.

Additionally, health educators at CSU campuses create events and activities to generate support for individuals who are or have been impacted by suicide and mental health issues. For example, 22 CSUs held a “Creating a Thousand Lights” candle lighting ceremony on October 1 to honor the memory of those affected by suicide. CSU campuses were among a myriad of California universities that held a candlelight event on the same night, and around the same time, to send a unified message that “you matter” and “someone cares” for people who have faced this trauma.

On October 18, San Francisco State will launch its first regional suicide prevention conference to bring campus and community members together to share best practices in mental illness care. Send Silence Packing at Cal State San Bernardino The conference will also reveal the university’s Send Silence Packing exhibit, where 1,100 backpacks representing the number of college students who die by suicide every year, will be placed around campus. SFSU will join Cal State San Bernardino, Cal State Fullerton and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo which have all already launched a Send Silence Packing awareness campaign this year.

In November, Cal State Northridge will be hosting “Beat the Blues Week” to raise awareness about depression and suicide prevention. The Blues Week is a campus-wide collaboration that features a wellness fair, workshops and guest speakers.