A silent struggle: Collin College group helps to combat student suicide
At first glance, a backpack holds little more than probably some books and pencils.
But when it comes to those that will be strewn around Collin College this month, they symbolize a college student who lost his or her life to suicide.
In an effort to "Send Silence Packing," the Collin College chapter of the national Active Minds, Inc. student advocacy group is recognizing the annual 1,100 college students lost to suicide nationwide by sharing the stories of these individuals.
"Since Collin is a community college, there's a little more on a student's plate here," said Amy Trombley, advisor for the Active Minds Collin College Chapter. "The added stress of all these different things can pull them in a million different directions and it can really bring to light some mental health issues that maybe they didn't deal with prior to now."
The display, which is free and open to the public, will be available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16 in the Central Park Campus, 2200 W. University Drive, in the quadrangle near the library.
Collin College District President Cary Israel and McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller will speak to students, professors, community organization leaders and residents to raise awareness about stress-induced suicide among college students.
In 2005, Texas had a suicide rate of 10.4 (deaths per 100,000), making it the tenth leading cause of death in the state and the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds, Trombley said. The Collin County suicide rate was 9.2.
Trombley experienced student suicide firsthand during her first semester teaching full time at Collin College in the fall of 2008. One of her students, known among many of his peers as "very jovial," ended up taking his own life later that semester. At his funeral, his family read the introduction speech he had written in her class about himself shortly before his death.
According to Trombley, the student had received a football scholarship after high school and got in with the wrong crowd at a 4-year university, where he eventually dropped out due to drugs and alcohol. After rehab, he went back to school at Collin College, seeking a career as a substance abuse counselor.
"From what we understand, he felt himself getting out of control again," Trombley said. "He couldn't keep up with his class work. He was working full time and all of these things were what brought him into drugs in the first place. He felt [suicide] was easier than trying to struggle with it anymore."
The Active Minds chapter at Collin College is the only community college group in the state and is the first college in Texas to host the "Send Silence Packing" event. Since its founding in 2006, the chapter has received the 5-Star rating - the highest rating possible -from its national organization, placing them next to Rice University and the University of North Texas.
The purpose of Active Minds is to increase awareness among Collin students about issues of mental health, symptoms of mental illness and available resources. Collin College is also the only community college in the country that offers free counseling services to its students, Trombley said.
Working as a liaison between the college's students and the mental health community through its website, as well as through distributing material and participating in related events, the chapter has become a clearinghouse for students for information on depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, PTSD and anxiety.
The chapter also actively works with community and student organizations that work with individuals who may tend to struggle more with societal pressures and bullying, such as veterans' associations and LBGT groups.
Job loss, failure to promote in one's career and other adverse factors that prompt many non-traditional students to enroll in community college can lend to the need for chapters like Active Minds at the community college level, Trombley said.
"Enrollment booms when the economy slumps," Trombley said. "We have many students who are working full time, have full time families, are going to school full time and trying to do it all flawlessly. Any one of those things is an undertaking."
Last year, the chapter welcomed Herschel Walker to the McKinney campus to speak about his struggles with mental health. The former Dallas Cowboy turned MMA fighter was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, or multiple personality disorder.
"If these students had known what resources were out there for them, it may have helped them and that's what we're all about," Trombley said. "We live in a reactionary society - we don't want to do that, we want to prevent it. Our hope is to never have a suicide at Collin College again, even if we help only one student."
For information on Active Minds visit collincollege.edu or activeminds.org.
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