As part of National Suicide Prevention Week, one student organization at the University of Central Arkansas has decided to bring awareness to the issue.
Savannah Bell, the president of the UCA chapter of Active Minds, a national nonprofit organization that promotes mental health awareness and education for college students, placed 1,100 yellow pinwheels across the lawn outside the student center in the middle of campus as a visual aid to the campus community and to represent the lives lost to student suicide each year.
“We wanted to create visual representation for students to see the large scale of student suicide,” Bell said. “Our goal was to bring awareness to student suicide.”
The 19-year-old college sophomore said the idea came to her when she was in the process of bringing the national group to the local campus — this is Active Minds' first year at UCA.
Bell said that during that time, she was exposed to plans that other colleges had in the works and events they had going on.
The yellow, she said, was chosen because yellow is the color for suicide prevention.
Bell said being able to visualize the large number through the pinwheel display impacted the student body. She said they received positive responses through their social media platforms, from students and the community.
“I received a phone call from a mother who had a student at UCA that struggled with mental health problems and she told me how much it meant to her that we had started this program for not only students but the parents as well,” she said. “As a member of Student Orientation Staff, I was approached by an incoming freshman who struggled with mental health issues in high school and she was relieved to hear that we were starting an Active Minds chapter at UCA and that she would have a resource on campus that could be supportive of her.”
Sarah Davis, secretary, said they had several people stopping to take photos and asked what the purpose of the pinwheel display was.
“We know that our goal of raising awareness was met,” she said. “On a couple of occasions, people asked if they could take a pinwheel to represent one of their own loved ones even after the display was taken down.”
Davis said one of the “most touching” moments she witnessed was one girl telling her friend “how amazing it was to see a visual representation of how many lives are taken,” and how she was almost her own pinwheel.
Bell said the goal of the student-run organization is to increase awareness among students, faculty and staff regarding the issues concerning mental health by bringing in guest speakers to campus, organizing different fundraisers and hosting national programs.
“For UCA students with mental health needs, we will provide useful information and resources that they can access both on campus and in the community,” she said. “Ultimately, we want to decrease the stigma around mental health and provide a supportive environment so that students with mental health problems can thrive at UCA.”
Bell said college is important but also a stressful transition in a young person’s life, a possible contributing factor to suicide numbers.
“Oftentimes, college students feel isolated and have no where to turn and find unhealthy ways to cope with their mental health problems,” she said. “Many students are also afraid to receive help because [of] the stigma attached to mental health.”
Bell said others may be unaware of the resources available to them. Data shows that students that are on campuses that they believe to be supportive of mental health issues are 20 percent more likely to receive treatment.
“Mental health and suicide is an issue that affects all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic groups,” she said. “There is such a stigma around mental health among college students, and students need to know that there are resources in the community and on campus that can help.”