Out of Darkness

by Niko Hajimihalis

Suicide and mental health issues are topics often swept under the rug due to the stigma associated with them. These issues are especially prevalent in a college setting due to the increased risk of mental health issues among men and women aged 18–24. Fortunately, the Campus Suicide Prevention Creative Inquiry project, led by Drs. Heidi Zinzow and Martie Thompson in the Department of Psychology and Kristi Bussell, Assistant Director for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Initiatives at Clemson, is conducting research and providing outreach activities to help support those fighting mental health issues and educate the campus at large. The Creative Inquiry team is collaborating with many organizations across campus, including Clemson’s Healthy Campus, Redfern Student Health, Counseling and Psychological Services, University Housing, the Student Veterans Association, Psychology Club and Clemson University Sexuality and Gender Alliance. Partnering with others to educate students about mental health issues enables the Creative Inquiry team to be more intentional in their mission to reach at-risk populations. “We have become more synergistic and collaborative across campus so that our at-risk groups are not in their individual silos, but working together. I credit that a lot to our Creative Inquiry team over the years,” Zinzow says. The Creative Inquiry project’s research addresses the effectiveness of their advocacy training program. The program trains faculty, staff

and students on how to recognize risk factors and warning signs as well as how to refer students to the appropriate resources for help. “We are able to take part in both research and events that are impactful to our students now. Because we train people about suicide prevention, we get to both contribute to mental health scientific literature and impact students on our campus immediately,” Rebecca Roth, a junior psychology major, says. The gratification of being able to help those who are struggling with mental health issues has been one of the key motivators for students in this project. The annual Out of the Darkness Walk, which supports the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, is one of the team’s main outreach events. This fundraising event helps raise money for research and education on suicide and depression as well as provides a safe outlet for survivors of attempted suicide or those that lost a loved one to suicide to share their story. Students on the team also engage in other education and outreach activities around campus such as hosting educational seminars and speaker panels, developing website content, social marketing and co-facilitating advocacy trainings and campaigns related to suicide prevention. These activities give those struggling with mental health issues a hand to reach out to. It is the Creative Inquiry team’s hope that their work will continue to break the stigma and foster a safe environment on campus for discussions in order to help those in need.