Suicide awareness vigil scheduled for tonight

Bobby Shipman

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Junior social work major, Katie Richardson, who lost her brother to suicide in 2008, plants a yellow flag Tuesday night in honor of the 1,100 college students who die by suicide each year. Photo by BOBBY SHIPMAN/The Shield

A handful of students placed 1,100 yellow flags in USI’s free speech zone Tuesday evening to represent the number of college students who commit suicide in the U.S. each year.

The students are members of USI’s official chapter of To Right Love On Her Arms, which strives to bring a voice of hope, help and encouragement to campus for people who are struggling with mental issues such as depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.

Junior Communication Studies Major Erin Gillingham said there is a stigma surrounding mental health illness.

“We kind of live in a society where it’s not okay to ask for help, and that if you ask for help you’re weak, or if you ask for help, you are going to be a burden to other people,” Gillingham said. “We want to say that that is not true, that depression is a treatable mental illness and there is no reason why someone should remain untreated.”

Placing the flags was the first in a series of events the chapter will host this week in honor of National Suicide Prevention Week. The goal is to help spread awareness and provide support and encouragement for anyone on campus who might be struggling with or who has lost anyone to suicide.

A candlelight vigil and walk is scheduled for Wednesday night on the Quad.

“(It’s) just a way for us to remember those who we have lost to suicide and also to honor those who might still be struggling,” Gillingham said.

The ceremony will be similar to Relay for Life’s Luminaria, where as someone who wants to represent a person in the ceremony can write that person’s name on a bag and place it around the Quad at night.

The bags will then be illuminated and attendees will walk around the Quad in what is expected to be a moving ceremony.

The organization will have a table from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday under the University Center bridge for those who would like to register. Anyone can stop by the table and pick up ribbons and bracelets to show support.

On Thursday, TWLOHA will hold A Sense of Hope Coin Drive all day.

“It’s easy. We just have a jar on our table and people stop by if they want to get some information from us, or if they want to give us their spare change,” Gillingham said.

All money raised will be donated to the national non-for-profit To Right Love On Her Arms to provide scholarships for people who need mental health counseling but can’t afford it.

“We want people to know–the people out there who might be struggling–that they’re not alone and to know that their life matters and their story is important,” she said. “We want to help change these numbers because two-thirds of people who die by suicide have an untreated mental health condition.”