West Florida Taus “break the silence”

14 April

Students for Suicide Awareness and Alpha Tau Omega hosted the Second Annual Seeds of Hope Music and Art Benefit Show on April 3 to send a positive message to students suffering from mental health disorders.

“Our goal is to raise awareness and help decrease the stigma surrounding mental health issues,” SSA President Sabra Jernigan, a senior art administration major, said in a press release.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, untreated depression is the
No. 1 cause of suicide, which is the third leading cause of death among young adults.

Jernigan said 50 to 60 people attended the benefit at the University of West Florida Cannon Greens, and close to $600 was raised. All proceeds were donated to the Mental Health Association of West Florida.

The motto of SSA is “Breaking the silence through art and music.”

“It’s easier for people to express themselves through art and music than it is to sit down and have a conversation with someone,” Jernigan said. “It gives a voice to someone who normally wouldn’t say anything.”

To Write Love on Her Arms is another student organization using music to reach students suffering from mental health disorders.

TWLOHA President Logan Hartwig, a sophomore organizational communication major, said he thought stress was a major factor in depression and suicide on college campuses. He said he thought students dealing with depression were often afraid to talk about it.

“I think the best way to attack the problem is to have open and honest conversation and to let people know that they’re okay,” Hartwig said.

According to the 2008 National College Health Assessment, 1,970 UWF undergraduate students reported that their academic performance was negatively affected by an emotional disorder. The data also shows that more than 90 percent of students felt overwhelmed by their responsibilities.

“Recently, UWF has had some very serious and tragic situations related to alcohol, mental health and suicide,” Mica Harrell, assistant director for Health Promotion Services with Counseling and Wellness, said in an e-mail.

Two UWF students have died by suicide since 2008, Harrell said. The circumstances surrounding Tyler Knisely’s death in September 2008 were never released, but his mother works with SSA to promote suicide awareness, Jernigan said.

The other student, whose identity will remain undisclosed at the request of the family, was one of Hartwig’s close friends. The student had a history of depression before dying by suicide in December 2009, Hartwig said.

According to the NIMH, warning signs of suicide include suicide threats, withdrawal from friends and family, dramatic mood changes and an increase in alcohol or drug use.

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