Shippensburg University’s recently honored those lost to suicide through a suicide awareness vigil on World Suicide Awareness and Prevention Day.
Members of the Shippensburg community on Sept. 10 found themselves in the seats of the Ceddia Union Building multipurpose room with heavy hearts. The faculty outstretched their hands to them and lent their shoulders to be cried upon. The room itself was drowning in the emotion as its occupants released their grief and their reverence for the loved ones they lost.
Alex Karlheim, coordinator of academic initiatives, organized the event to break the stigma about suicide and to offer comfort to the student body.
“I am here to let you know you are never alone at any point in time,” Karlheim said as she spoke about the resources provided on campus.
The vigil featured various speakers such as Student Government Association Vice President Makayla Glass, who reminded her classmates to be kind to strangers and to feel free to talk to someone if they have thoughts of suicide.
The Rev. Jan Bye of the United Campus Ministries also gave a testimony.
“It’s so tragic to me that so many young people feel so hopeless,” Bye said
She challenged the audience to work together to make sure we are all OK, and at the end of the day be “life-giving people.” She passionately reminded the audience that the feelings of helplessness and despair don’t last forever.
“Temporary problems do not need a permanent solution,” Bye said.
She ended her speech with a moment of silence. At this time of remembrance, there was a wave of emotion and sadness as everyone honored the lives that were lost to this epidemic.
Chris Carlton of the SU counseling center offered a powerful aspect to the vigil as he had the audience participate in an exercise where people on each side of the room formed two rows across from the other.
Carlton asked the people on the left side of the room to stare into the eyes of their partner and imagine them contemplating suicide.
“Do they look like someone that could hurt themselves?” he asked.
The students gazed at each other intently as the thought moved through their heads.
As people began to break down in tears, staff appeared by their sides with an arm around their shoulders, letting them know they are not alone.
Carlton then asked the people on the right of the room if they could ask their partners for help and if they looked like a kind face to which they could reach out.
Again, tears broke through.
The exercise forced the audience to understand that anyone can be contemplating taking their own life, and no one could ever realize it. It also gave the reminder to be kind to strangers, because you may never know what is going through someone’s head. Something as small as a smile could save someone’s life.
“We stand for hope. Amen,” Bye said.