There will be no classes today at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Instead, Tuesday, Oct. 12, will be a day of reflection, care and healing as the university community copes with a pair of reported suicides that occurred on its campus over the weekend.
University leaders are asking students, staff and faculty to lean on another and utilize resources provided on campus to ensure they are OK through the rest of the week. The announcement was released on Sunday, which was World Mental Health Day.
“We are in the middle of a mental health crisis, both on our campus and across our nation, and we are aware that college-aged students carry an increased risk of suicide,” Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz wrote. “This crisis has directly impacted members of our community—especially with the passing of two students on campus in the past month. As chancellor, a professor and a parent, my heart breaks for all those whose suffering goes unnoticed.”
The pain has been numbing for higher education, exacerbated further by a pandemic that has stoked fear, anxiety and isolation among vulnerable populations of young students who already had been adversely affected by mental health struggles. According to numbers from a 2019 study of 86,000 students provided by the American College Health Association, nearly 14% had thought of attempting suicide. Another 2.3%, or roughly 2,000, actually tried it, while almost 10% self-harmed.
That is the level of pain being experienced by the largely 17-24 group, and down into K-12, as they continue to fight stresses from academics (which tops the list at 53%) finances, relationships, family struggles and personal appearance. Many are crying out for help but are fearful or simply don’t know how to access resources. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in that age group.
In the wake of the deaths, Guskiewicz pleaded for students to take this 24-hour period to “reach out to a friend, a classmate, or colleague and ask them, “honestly, how are you doing?”
“We are living in a world that is constantly shifting and changing,” Guskiewicz wrote. “We are facing major challenges and the ongoing toll this takes on our health cannot be underestimated. This cannot be solved by one person, or on one day, alone.”
North Carolina’s Student Wellness Center, which falls under its Office of Student Affairs, offers an array of resources to students, including workshops on stress management, mindfulness and healthy relationships; peer-to-peer assistance; violence prevention and alcohol and drug programs; and one-on-one and group counseling. From 2018 through this year, it has been developing a new strategic plan to ensure wellness across its community. But as it notes, it is “organic and evolving.”
Guskiewicz said that this week, it would provide “a special support network” of Counseling and Psychological Services, the Department of Psychiatry, the School of Medicine and the School of Social Work to help students and employees cope with the losses.
Later this month, North Carolina will be hosting a summit on mental health with experts and student leaders from the community. One of the key new strategies will be the launch of the Heels Care Network, which is, “a campus-wide campaign to promote and support mental health awareness” and offer easier reporting for those concerned about themselves or others. Employees are being advised to take part as well and using the Employee Assistance Program if needed.
“The most important thing we can do is to care for each other, and I hope you continue to do this on Tuesday and for the rest of this year and beyond,” Guskiewicz wrote.