People connect strongly to stories, and today’s students tend to make those connections when they can watch the storytelling. As part of its suicide prevention efforts, the campus counseling center at the University of West Georgia (13,700 students) has begun releasing a series of #UWGSpeaks videos due to the prevalence of depression in college students.
In the videos, students and other members of the campus community talk about how suicide has impacted their lives.
“We have to make seeking help normal and easy,” says Lisa Adams Somerlot, director of the university’s campus counseling center. “Video is the medium where students communicate and are communicated with.”
The university began releasing the “You Are Not Alone” videos in March. Administrators hope that when students see the videos, they will feel comfortable about reaching out for help if they or someone they know is suffering.
In one of the first four videos, a member of the campus community named Terri describes how a few years after she was hospitalized for feeling suicidal, her younger brother killed himself.
“I think what people don’t understand is that by staying silent, they give the impression that nobody struggles with this,” she says in her video. “I just wanted to encourage you to speak up and get help, and just know that if you’re struggling, there’s help available.”
A generation open to kindness
The counseling center will release the videos over the next few weeks, while students take finals and prepare for graduation. The counseling center collaborated with the university’s communications and marketing department to create the videos, which were filmed during Suicide Prevention Week in September 2018.
The team, in promoting the videos on social media, invited members of the campus community to tell their stories on camera. Counselors were on hand to help the speakers through the sharing process.
“Today’s students are getting more and more comfortable talking with educators and student affairs professionals,” says Xavier Whitaker, West Georgia’s associate vice president for student life and the dean of students. “Deeper relationships are being fostered because students are feeling better about speaking out.”
A group of student leaders has also been trained to spot warning signs of mental distress and to do regular wellness checks on classmates to combat depression in college students.
“We’re always working with students to help them to be kind and available to each other,” Somerlot adds. “It can’t just be the professional staff; it’s working on a campus climate of kindness, and I think this generation of students is open to that.”