By Jennifer Somers
This academic year, the College has faced many tragedies, including the deaths of senior psychology major Jenna DiBenedetto and freshman psychology major Charlie Schulz.
A Grief & Loss Lion’s Hour was held on Friday, March 8 at 1 p.m. in Brower Student Center Room 225W to discuss handling suicide prevention and grief in general. The event focused on the importance of uniting the campus community.
The College established Lions’ Hour sessions to gain insight and feedback on how to handle conflicts and tragedies. These forums are regarded as a safe space where faculty, staff and students can voice their opinions freely.
The Lion’s Hour was hosted by College President Kathryn Foster and co-hosted by Assistant Vice President for Health and Wellness Mark Forest. The small gathering consisted of both students and mostly faculty.
During a raw and emotional discussion, many faculty members voiced their concerns about how could they do more to recognize the signs that a person might be in distress.
The focus of the open discussion was the language that surrounds suicide and mental health issues. Faculty stressed that it is sometimes difficult to frame mental health issues in an adaptive way. Students and faculty have been struggling with how to approach the topic of suicides –– some were cautious about glorifying the issue while others felt that the topic was not talked about enough.
“How do we sustain these kinds of interesting issues so we can be talking honestly and freely about where we’re at with our emotions, death, suicide?” Foster said. “We want to find a way to do that and a lot of the conversation today was about some of the possibilities of that going forward.”
Forest, along with other faculty members, have been working on changing the language of faculty syllabi to spread awareness of and remind students at the beginning of each semester of the resources that the campus has to offer.
The effect of social media on mental health was also discussed.
“Everyone’s perception of reality is deteriorated from portraying a “perfect” life on Instagram because not being okay isn’t aesthetically pleasing,” said Jillian Brueckner, a junior psychology major and friend of the late senior psychology major Jenna DiBenedetto.
During the Lions’ Hour, Brueckner introduced the idea of creating a group on campus when studentsza could discuss suicide awareness and prevention. Although Breuckner’s idea is still in a premature stage, she plans on collaborating with many of the faculty who attended the Lions’ Hour, such as Forest, Foster, the Collegiate Recovery Program and Thrive.
“I want to have the community come together and acknowledge that suicide is a problem and an epidemic,” Brueckner said. “We need to have open communication about mental health. It is a bridge between a social organization, similar to sororities and fraternities, and an educational organization in which we will be talking about the signs and awareness of suicide, and coping mechanisms along with resources.”
Brueckner plans on creating fundraisers and social events for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She also plans on collaborating with other clubs and organizations that are dedicated to supporting the mental health of students on campus. Her agenda includes group therapy and mindfulness
sessions to “make everyone comfortable with the discussion of mental health.”
“I lost a lot of people to suicide, depression, anxiety,” she said. “I’m done and something has to change. This is the perfect time to have as many different groups on campus come together.”
Discussions such as these Lions’ Hour forums are held to help the campus recover from loss while also promoting the growth of the community.
“We are a community that does care about one another,” Forest said at the conclusion of the Lions’ Hour. “We need to have each other’s backs. We need to be able to talk with one another, find out if they’re okay or not okay and let them know they will be alright. We do the best that we can and we are constantly trying to improve our methods, policies, procedures and initiatives.”