How to Save a Life

If you walked by the basketball courts in the Recreation and Wellness Center on March 31 and attempted to count the backpacks, you probably failed. And that's the point.

Active Minds, “a student-run organization that seeks to inform, educate, and promote mental health awareness,” has set out on a mission to raise suicide awareness among students and faculty at colleges across the United States. Over 1,100 backpacks are traveling to college campuses around the country as an exhibit. These backpacks each represent a student who has committed suicide in the past year—but the message goes much deeper than that.

Neatly attached to the backpacks are the actual stories of these tragic victims. Some of them are written for viewers to read while others merely contain pictures of students who have committed suicide. These students were just like the people you see walking around campus every day. Depression and suicidal thoughts are becoming increasingly common—in the past 50 years, suicide rates among young adults between the ages of 15-24 have increased by more than 200 percent, and six percent of undergraduate college students have seriously contemplated suicide in the past year.

We obviously have a serious problem, and we need to work together to fix it. By being well-informed and aware, we can be a part of the solution. We were able to talk with Dr. Dustin Johnson, a licensed psychologist at Student Counseling Services and adviser to Auburn’s chapter of Active Minds, and he gave us some valuable advice regarding suicide prevention:

People typically communicate that they are in trouble before they make harmful decisions. The most obvious difference in behavior is withdrawal or disconnect from friends and family, but people may also display their distress by exhibiting any number of the following symptoms:

  • Negative body language
  • Either heightened emotions or an abnormal tendency to “keep it in”
  • A negative change in their behavior or appearance
  • Skipping class or not leaving their room
  • Disheveled—not taking care of themselves
  • Sudden decline in personal hygiene
  • Suddenly giving things away to friends or family
  • Verbalization: “I don’t want to be here” or “I want to kill myself”
  • A big event that has prompted sudden negativity (i.e. failing academically, tough break-up, physical assault, illness, family problems, etc.)

If someone you know is exhibiting any of these characteristics, it may be more serious than you think. Even if you think it’s not that big of a deal—don’t dismiss it right away. Pay attention for more signs and work to positively support that person. That said, if it appears to be a serious issue, you need to get professional help. No matter how wonderful of a friend you are, you are most likely not qualified to be a counselor. Auburn does a wonderful job of offering professional help—take advantage of it!

Be well, Auburn.

Photography: Cat S.

Catherine (aka Cat) is from Birmingham, Alabama, majoring in aerospace engineering. Her hobbies include exploring new places, eating bananas, and “doing something crazy.”  An avid picture-taker, she works as a photographer for Campus Recreation Team Marketing.

Cat is a self-proclaimed nerd. When not with a camera in hand, you can probably find her fangirling about Elon Musk and his newest engineering breakthroughs (think Hyperloop).

Other than physics and photography, Cat enjoys being around people. She is nothing without Jesus and has a strong passion for The Lord. She encourages the happiness of others by sharing a smile and advocating a healthy lifestyle. 

Check out Cat’s photography of everyday campus moments on Be Well.