The University of Connecticut concluded its Suicide Prevention week Saturday, coinciding with an unfortunate spike in gay teen suicides across the nation.
Five gay teenage suicides made the news in the last three weeks. The latest happened at Rutgers University, where 18-year-old Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate allegedly taped him in a sexual encounter with another man.
“This week is tragically timely,” said Barry Schreier, UConn’s director of counseling and mental health services. “But the goal is to raise awareness. UConn is not immune.”
Schreier said UConn pursued a “three-pronged approach” for this year’s Suicide Prevention week, a week recognized for the past three years.
“It’s based on the philosophy that people contemplating suicide are also somehow telling others,” he said. “We also know from research that those people are often not talking to professionals. They’re talking to the people around them.”
Schreier said he hopes to provide students the confidence to recognize when something is not right and understand the available resources. The Suicide Prevention Committee plans multiple events and works with up to 24 participating offices on campus to help spread awareness.
Part of the week’s events included a lecture hosted by UConn’s Rainbow Center. Marc Chartier, a continuous quality improvement coordinator, client rights officer and privacy officer at the non-profit job placement organization Marrakech, Inc. in Woodbridge, spoke to students about the mental health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.
“The leading cause of death for gay and lesbian youth is suicide,” he said. He said one of the biggest contributing factors is the “spiritual abuse” gay teenagers often experience.
“People don’t like it when I explain that being gay isn’t about sex,” he said. “If I’d never had sex with anyone in my life, I’d still be a gay man. But the oppression centers on our behavior. That how we act is somehow who we are.”
Chartier listed off a set of disturbing facts. For example, gay and lesbian youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide. Gay and lesbian youth also constitute thirty percent of all completed suicides, not just youth suicides.
“We are part of a culture,” he said. “We are everyone. Gay people have always been. We are at the very least 30 million strong in the United States, but most estimates put us at 40 to 50 million.”
Another event included the “Be Aware, Show You Care” interactive art exhibit, where students personalized bandanas and flags to share thoughts about the impact of suicide. The colorful bandanas all hung in a Student Union room with written expressions like “You are loved!” Countless little yellow flags fluttered on the Student Union lawn for the week.
“I think Suicide Prevention Week should last a month,” said UConn senior Emily Herb. “There aren’t nearly enough public forums on campus where students can talk about this.”
Schreier said one new practice offered this year is QPR training, or “Question, Persuade and Refer.” The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations recognizes QPR training as a “best practices” program.
Students learn free how to recognize the warning signs, apply the question, persuade and refer method to find someone help and to act with confidence.
Schreier also said UConn will hold a second Suicide Prevention week in February, a first for the university since the first awareness week three years ago.