Mental Health Awareness Week Highlights Suicide Prevention

March 2, 2015
Ben Teurlay next to his art piece

Ben Teurlay started the In Your Shoes project to raise awareness for suicide prevention. // Photo by Nicolas Grizzle

There are 1,100 empty pairs of shoes scattered in the grass outside the library, each representing a life on a college campus lost to suicide last year. Sonoma State University senior Ben Teurlay has been collecting the shoes since October as part of his In Your Shoes project to highlight suicide prevention as part of Mental Health Awareness Week on campus.

Teurlay partnered with Sonoma State's Counseling and Psychological Services to present the powerful exhibition three days on campus during the week. Wednesday features a walk and readings from students sharing their experiences with suicide. Sharing stories is an important factor in combating the stigma of suicide and mental illness, says Teurlay. In Your Shoes features facts and statistics about suicide on posters around the exhibition, and tips on how to help someone in a time of need.

"I've always felt that if I can make an impact on one student's life, then I've made a difference," says Teurlay.

Several events take place on campus this week, including movie screenings, guest speakers, a comedy show and a panel to ask questions. At the end of the week, students are given the opportunity to be trained and certified in suicide prevention.

"The whole event is super informative," says psychology major Alyssa Chagnon. "Mental health is a serious thing that people really need to be more aware about. Something like this could really help someone who is struggling and doesn't know what's going on."

"We want to be able to destigmatize what it is actually like to be living with a mental illness," said Isabel Avila Saiter, a post-doctoral fellow psychologist for the services. "Also, to be able to connect people to resources and provide suicide awareness tools."

In Your Shoes is displayed in the Stevenson-Darwin quad March 3 and March 5, and in the Salazar quad March 4, each day 11 a.m.-2 p.m. The shoes will be donated to Soles 4 Souls after the exhibit is finished.

On March 5 at 3 p.m., students can become suicide prevention certified, learning three simple steps that could help save someone's life.

"I believe strongly in community mental health as well as the individual counseling we do at CAPS," said Puentes. "So many areas of campus have come together to create the week--Residential Life, Campus Life, CSLIS Office, the Master's in Counseling Program, the Peer Mentor Program, multiple SSU Professors, students from Greek Life, students from Psi Chi and various other students with a passion for this issue joined in."

Mental Health Awareness Week Events:

March 3: In Our Own Voice 
Experiences from individuals living well with mental illness, with Q&A, 6 p.m., Student Center Ballroom D.

March 3: Movie Screening, "Of Two Minds"
Film based on a character who suffers from bipolar disorder, 7:30 p.m., Student Center Ballroom D.

March 4: Speak Out and Awareness Walk 
Join the prevention effort, hear stories of recovery and show support for your classmates, noon, Salazar quad.

March 5: QPR Suicide Prevention Training 
A training in three simple steps anyone can use to help save a life from suicide, 3 p.m., Student Center.

March 5: Comedy Show and SSU Panel 
Hilarious stand-up comedian Brian Wetzel's trip through the world of depression, Q&A with SSU panel to follow, 6 p.m., Student Center Ballroom.

--Nicolas Grizzle

(Parts of this article appeared in the Sonoma State Star, February 17, 2015, in an article by Olivia Johnson)