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Performances spread suicide awareness

A year ago, Keila Lopez, a sophomore majoring in biomedical sciences, lost a friend.

Her friend, a father of two, took his own life.

He had struggled with thoughts of suicide, and for this reason Lopez wanted to bring the issues of suicide awareness and education to campus.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students nationally, Lopez said, higher than car accidents, and on the anniversary of losing her friend, she wanted others to prevent others from experiencing the same loss or taking their own lives.

Speak Life was organized by Lopez and BullSERVE, a student ambassador service organization, to raise awareness for suicide prevention.

People dont want to talk about suicide, Lopez, coordinator of Speak Life and director of BullSERVE, said. They think its an ugly topic, but its something that needs to be discussed.

The event took place in the Marshall Student Center Amphitheater on Wednesday evening, using spoken word, graffiti, rap music, poetry and other performances to convey awareness of an issue that takes another life every 40 minutes.

John Parrish, a USF alumnus and a volunteer for the Tampa Bay Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said a recent study by the National Institute for Health says more than 50 percent of college students have had thoughts of suicide and almost 8 percent have acted on those thoughts in some way.

The event included multiple performances of students and community members singing, break dancing, and an open mic competition.

Were trying to mix education with artistry as an expression to speak life and deal with this issue in a new light, Rivera said.

One of the performances at Speak Life was by an artist named Angie Mysteryous Marie who performed three different songs and poems, which she said focused on choosing life over death.

Through my music, art and poetry, I want to encourage people to hold on and keep focus, because tomorrow will be a better day, she said.

Mysteryous said making audiences aware of the issue suicide is personal to her.

When she was 16 years old, she said she suffered from thoughts of suicide. While in high school, she said she resorted to drug and alcohol abuse to fill a void she felt.

I felt like the world was against me, she said. I was looking for love in drugs in alcohol and in people who couldnt provide it.

Eventually, Mysteryous said she found support from religious counseling groups and taking solace in the word of God.

Over time, I realized there is a purpose for me, she said. I have to take it one day at a time and remind myself that tomorrow will be better.

Students at the event could also learn about community partners such as the Tampa Bay chapter for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and campus resources like USF Wellness and the Counseling Center to learn about suicide education, mental heath and more.

Lopez said students could also view art projects, such as a tree that symbolized new life, and an interactive wall, where students could leave behind positive messages for someone else.

Students, such as Danya Smotryski, a freshman majoring in health science, said the stories of performers were emotional, and felt the overall event reached an sensitive topic in an enjoyable way.

The night was very entertaining, Smotryski said. I think it is a good way to gain awareness.

The USF Counseling Center encouraged students facing mental distress to go to the center for personal counseling, psychiatric services and outreach or consultation. Students and community members with suicidal thoughts can also contact the Tampa Bay Crisis Center 24 hours a day by calling the national crisis center hotline at 1-800-273-8255.