Suicide Awareness Vigil Held for Awareness Week

Photo by Rebecca King

A suicide awareness vigil to honor victims of suicide and spread awareness of mental illness was held on Friday at 7 p.m. by the arch. At the event, which was hosted by the Active Minds club, students were encouraged to bring a poem, speech or picture of a loved one who committed suicide to share with the rest of the attendees. After club members and other students read their poems and speeches aloud, a moment of silence was held for anyone who has struggled with suicide. 

This event marked the end of a weeklong suicide awareness campaign run by Allie McNamara, Lauren Stallone and Nina Lopicollo. They chose to organize these events for their senior project, which focused on encouraging students to take what they learned inside the classroom and apply it to the real world.

The three started planning in September and began networking with clubs on campus and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to create a successful campaign.

“We are all affected by the issue in some way,” said McNamara on why the group chose suicide. “We wanted to be able to unite the campus and create awareness in showing the students that so many people are affected by it and you are not alone. We also wanted to erase the stigma connected to suicide so it can become a more comfortable topic to address.”

Events that took place this week included a screening of “The Truth about Suicide: Real Stories of Depression in College Students,” a speaking event where Wendy and Steve Sefick traveled to Ramapo to share their story about their son T.J., who took his own life when he was 16 years old and a flag garden by the arch, where for three days 1,100 black flags were staked in the ground to represent the 1,100 college students who commit suicide each year. Students were also encouraged to place a colored flag in the ground to represent their personal connection to suicide. The team of three also created a banner made up of paper hands that held mental health and suicide awareness facts, which was hung by the arch for the week.

McNamara, Stallone and Lopicollo promoted the event on campus by working with a design team in a different senior class to create flyers and posters that they hung on campus and distributed during common hour at tables outside of the cafeteria. They also created social media accounts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to further spread the word and keep students updated on the times for each event.

The Sefick’s speaking event brought in the biggest crowd, with over 50 Ramapo students in attendance. Parents who were affected by their child’s suicide joined them in the crowd. Senior Amanda Pontone attended the event and learned a lot from the Seficks.

“The event touched me because it made me think about how other people can be suffering so bad on the inside and how it's important that we need to be more understanding towards one another, because you never know who can be suffering from depression,” she said.

The campaign was successful in bringing issues of mental health to the forefront for students at Ramapo, according to McNamara.

"I am so grateful to have had this experience of planning an awareness campaign based on mental health and suicide,” said McNamara. “The overall success was outstanding, and we are so happy to have seen students from Ramapo touched by this event and even happier to see how many students participated in each event. I hope to see students who take the senior projects class think about carrying on this campaign to continue to raise awareness and erase the stigma on mental health and suicide."