Students gather to combat mental health stigma

Heidi Petracco, the associate director of clinical and prevention services at the Counseling Center, encouraged students to seek mental health assistance if needed. ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

Students and faculty stood unified Wednesday night, sharing experiences of loss, struggle and inspiring perseverance with personal stories surrounding mental health and suicide. 

In honor of International Survivors of Suicide Day on Nov. 19, various organizations around campus came together for the second-annual Survivors of Suicide Night at the Marshall Student Center Amphitheater. 

 “It was a powerful moment for students to unite,” said Heidi Petracco, Associate Director of Clinical and Prevention Services at the USF Counseling Center. 

In a semi-open mic atmosphere, students rose to speak on issues ranging from homophobia to bullying, sexual assault and harassment to the loss of a parent. 

“I’ve only personally shared my story with people, but I thought, ‘Why not share it in a larger scale,’” Elisabeth, third year majoring in art and psychology said. “Struggling with depression and anxiety, it was encouraging to hear I wasn’t the only one going through it.”

One suicide happens every 40 seconds, according to the World Health Organization. 

The issue of mental health is commonly associated with negative connotations, but the prevalence of open communication is meant to alleviate those implications and spread awareness to combat the national statistics of suicide, according to Petracco. 

One of the contributing speakers, Nevedha, a senior majoring in psychology and social work, said that the USF counseling center recommended she join additional campus resources the Students of Concern Action Team (SOCAT) and the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). 

“SOCAT coordinates community resources and services on campus to help students…” Nevedha said. “DBT is skilled-based therapy. The counseling center has groups focused on chain reactions and mindfulness which are skills focused on helping to eliminate self-harm and suicide attempts and to cope…” 

Hannah Martin, a senior majoring in mass communications and international studies, mediated the three-hour event. 

“It’s all about hope and a message of healing,” Martin said. “This conversation is important to facilitate for students to heal and grow after a loss. The purpose of the event is to build a community based around these topics.”

Beau, a dance major, used his struggle with suicide to create art for the event that blended photography and paint. He took black and white pictures of students from the dance department and used colored paints to embellish them. 

“I had to heal myself first and learn how to love myself and not care about what anyone thought about me — it starts with me first,” Beau said. 

To conclude the event, a moment of silence was shared among speakers and listeners for a commemorative biodegradable balloon release to honor those who have lost their lives to suicide.  

The event was hosted by the Wellness & Disabilities Committee of the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement, Come Out of the Dark, A Life Worth Living and Undergraduate Psychology Association.

“A lot of effort went into making this event possible,” Lin said. “It has been a collaborative effort with these organizations around campus.” 

USF students are encouraged to take advantage of the resources available on campus. 

“Being able to embrace and talk openly requires so much courage, together it provides a lot more strength in the hope to reduce stigmas associated with mental health difficulties,” Petracco said. “We want students to seek help for themselves. Whether it be counseling, seeing a doctor, a mentor, whoever that is—help comes in many different ways.”