Life Week event discusses mental health

“Are you okay? Can I help you? Is something wrong?” These are questions that Kevin Hines wanted to hear the day that he jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. No one asked Hines these questions, and he made the decision to jump. Against the odds, Hines survived the jump and has shared his story with audiences across the country.

On April 24, Students for Life hosted the event “The Bridge Between Suicide and Life” as part of the group’s annual Life Week. Life Week focuses on topics that affect the dignity of all human life, including suicide, immigration, abortion, homelessness, and domestic violence.

Photo courtesy of Joey Dato | Kevin Hines, a man who survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, spoke to the USD campus during Life Week.

At the event, three men spoke about their experiences with mental health issues and suicide. Kevin Briggs, a former California Highway Patrol officer, worked on the Golden Gate Bridge and often negotiated with suicidal people to come back over the railing. Joel Merchant, an Australian police officer, survived a terrorist bombing in Bali and now works to improve mental health education for his police forces. Hines spoke about his battle with bipolar disorder and how he manages his suicidal thoughts.

Students for Life co-president Miranda Rappoldt spoke about the origins of the event, “The Bridge Between Suicide and Life.”

“The intention behind the event was simply to educate our campus on this issue, especially in the context of life,” Rappoldt said. “As a pro-life club, we are called to promote life from conception until natural death, and this is certainly an issue that can take away from the inherent dignity of life.”

According to Rappoldt, Students for Life chose to include suicide in Life Week last fall. She said that they picked suicide because it is an important issue, and it would capture campuswide attention with speakers.

Rappoldt explained that the different speaking styles of Briggs and Hines allowed the event to look at suicide from different points of view.

“As both men are very different speakers and share upon different parts of this complex issue, we decided bringing them both would create for a unique event that shared both the mental health side of suicide and also the ‘how can we help’ side,” Rappoldt said.

Rappoldt said that she thinks the event sparked conversation around campus. Even when a third speaker was added to the event, she said the speakers captivated the audience for the entirety of the night.

“Mental health is a topic that isn’t always talked about, and I think, especially when we are looking at mental health in the context of suicide awareness and prevention, it is important to look at the facts, understand what is going on, and how we can respond to the bigger picture of the issue,” Rappoldt said. “The reality is that there are more people struggling with this than we think, so it is best to bring it into the open and talk about it.”

Stephanie Lynch, the Director for Health Promotion at the Center for Health and Wellness, stated one way the University of San Diego works to prevent suicide is through mental health check-ins.

“In 2013, USD received a three-year grant dedicated to suicide prevention (SAMHSA’s Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant) and, through this process, we were able to implement multifaceted enhanced efforts related to mental health promotion and suicide prevention across campus,” Lynch said. “Holding mental health screening events, such as ours, is considered a best practice for many reasons, particularly in working to reduce the stigma of seeking help and making resources easily available to students.”

This opening night of Life Week focused on breaking the silence around mental health and openly talking about the issues.

Junior Madeleine Stockton attended the event. Stockton said that the speakers shared their stories and important messages compassionately.

“I think talking about mental health issues is something that is very important,” Stockton said. “These issues are relevant for so many people today, and I think hearing other peoples’ experiences allows us to be a more accepting society.”

Stockton explained why she thought that these events can be impactful. She said that one of her favorite mental health discussions is “My Story,” an event hosted by the Changemaker Hub.

“People need to know that they are not alone in these things and how to get help and support,” Stockton said. “Although I think these are sensitive topics, if done in the correct way, talks like [Life Week] can be life changing for some.”

Stockton expressed that she is grateful for events such as this one, which focused on mental health awareness.

“I think it is incredibly important to have these discussions continued,” Stockton said. “I’m so grateful that we have a community here on campus that puts these kinds of events on. If these speakers only reach one person in the room, I count that as a victory and something worth continuing.”

Junior Katie Rossi was also in attendance and said that she appreciated the blunt conversation.

“I think it’s important,” Rossi said. “Many people suffer from these issues and suicide for the most part is considered taboo. When we talk about it in a blunt way, we are acknowledging that it does exist and promoting an open dialogue.”

Allowing for candid conversation about mental health and suicide at this event furthered the de-stigmatization of these issues on USD’s campus. Hopefully future events will continue in this fashion.

Anyone who is in an emotional crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts can call the National Suicide Prevention hotline, 800-273-8255, to speak with counselors at any time or the San Diego Access & Crisis hotline, 888-724-7240. For the USD community, a counselor on-call is available to consult about after-hours psychological emergencies at all times. The counselor on-call can be reached by calling Public Safety, 619-260-2222.

Elisabeth Smith | News Editor