By Elizabeth Toy
The recent deaths of a former East Los Angeles College student and a prospective student spurred distress among Elans and roused the Associate Student Union to hold the Huskies Solidarity for Life event on Thursday in front of the S2 building.
The Associated Student Union collaborated with the Health Center and local law enforcement to host an assembly to discuss mental illness and the many resources offered to those who need help.
“Suicide is the number two cause of death on high school campuses this year,” Jane Hightower said.
Hightower is a member of Attitudes in Reverse, a new non-profit suicide prevention program launching in November.
Attendees were invited to write and draw chalk messages on the ground to encourage and cultivate a community environment at ELAC.
Attendees were invited to sit in a semi-circle around various speakers, including the Dean of Student Services, law enforcement, ELAC mental health professionals, ASU members and students.
Each contributed their own personal experience and ecouraged those in need to ask for help.
The assembly had a moment of silence for Nelly Virginia Murray and the unidentified man.
“Together as one community, we will help make sure that everyone is heard, with a special focus on those who might be suffering in silence,” ELAC President Marvin Martinez said.
Maria Martinez, supervisor of the School Threat Assessment Response Team (START), informed the assembly that START offers access to a clinical psychologist and licensed clinical social worker.
Giovanni Fernandez from the Student Health Center introduced Jermaine Strickland and Nelly Vasquez, ELAC’s onsite therapists, and shed light on the resources offered at the Heath Center.
Fernandez stressed that the mental health professionals are here for all students and want to bridge the gap between the students and faculty.
“This is for the campus to get together so we know that students are supported all around, to let people know there’s help out there,” Contreras said.
Many students bravely shared their own personal experiences with mental illness whether they experienced it directly or through someone else that had it. “Sometimes we’re embarrassed to ask for help because we think people are going to judge us, but I want to encourage people. There are resources. Reach out to your friends. There are people out there that want to help us,” said Rubie Madragon of the Sociology Club.
Suicide doesn’t simply affect the one who ends his or her life.
It affects everyone whose life has been affected by that person, whether it’s a family member, partner, friend, classmate or mentor.
First-year student Jessica Kelly testified to the hardships she endured because suicide took her father and friends away from her.
“It’s important to let others know how much you care about them,” Kelly said.
Child development major Victoria Harris delivered an emotional speech about her own struggles. As a former victim of bullying, Harris has faced many adversities.
Her brother was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia and attempted suicide but fortunately, she and her mother stopped him in time.
“People with mental illnesses are very sensitive to yelling and screaming and negative attention. You just have to be patient with them and just be positive,” Harris said.
Adrian Caceres is an ASU Commissioner and counselor for Veterans.
He explained that some people just go through the basic struggles of life. “We forget others are actually walking around with traumatic experiences, reliving those moments and feeling like they’re nobody or they’re not worth it. It’s hard; it’s something that takes time and patience. We struggle and sometimes it involves a lot of pain. We just want everyone to know they’re not alone.”
Nathan Stewart, a U.S. disabled veteran from Veterans of ELAC shared facts about suicide prevalent among veterans.
Every day 22 veterans lose the battle with PTSD and other mental illnesses and take their lives.
“Vets are trained to go to war, do a lot of horrible things, but not to come back alive. Every day there’s a struggle not to pull the trigger,” Stewart said.
“The only way we can change this is by standing up. If you are struggling, if you have issues, there are so many people to help you.”
If you or someone you know needs help with mental distress or illness, contact the START Access 24/7 Hotline at (213)739-5565 or (800)854-7771.