News Article Details

Suicide prevention and mental health awareness event draws crowd to URI

Providence Journal - 3/31/2019

March 31-- Mar. 31--SOUTH KINGSTOWN -- "Suicide prevention and mental-health awareness is something that's just so important. It needs to be vocalized more on campus."

Thus did University of Rhode Island junior Kylee Harris capture the essence not only of the school's annual "Be 5K" fund-raising walk and run Sunday but also URI's overall approach to caring for the minds of its community members -- an approach that has placed in it a leadership position among colleges in the state and beyond.

More than 80 people participated in this year's walk and run, which began in the URI Quad, where dozens of volunteers manned sign-in and informational booths. Proceeds will benefit the Heather Fund, established by Josephine and Roger Vennewald on behalf of their daughter, Heather, a URI student who lost her life to suicide.

Harris told The Journal that her desire to "be an advocate for others" derives in part from her own experiences.

"I suffer through anxiety," she said, "but I actually didn't want to talk about it for the longest time. And then I just realized that it's something to embrace -- it's not something that you have to sit there and struggle alone with. You can actually talk about it and talking about it, I think, helps me a lot."

As it does for others, Harris said.

"I think that's so important that they can verbalize and reach out for help... showing that no one is alone and that we can all work together to get through it. Even though they might be 'different' than other students, we all do have a common bond where people are stressed, people do go through mental health and struggle with it."

Three of URI's mental-health professionals who were on the quad Sunday before the Be 5K event kicked off agreed.

"Suicide prevention and mental-health awareness is a national issue," said Robert Samuels, director of the URI Counseling Center. "It's particularly important on college campuses where a lot of students report anxiety and depression regularly. And so learning about ways of more effectively responding to that need is key."

"It's a really prevalent concern on college campuses," said Lindsey Anderson, director of URI's Psychological Consultation Center. "By talking about it and making it okay to talk about and providing people with the resources to support each other, we are all taking ownership of our community."

The walk and run "brings lots of different people together, members of the community," said Dr. Christopher S. Nasin, medical director of URI Health Services.

And not just the university community, Nasin said, but also all residents of South County. URI collaborates with South County Health Bodies, Healthy Minds on suicide-prevention efforts. Among the other programs URI is helping to pioneer is Mental Health First Aid, which teaches non-health professionals and others how to recognize signs of emotional distress and offer guidance, including expert intervention when warranted.

"Mental-health awareness and suicide prevention is so important, especially when every year from losing students to suicide," said Amy Albert, URI community engagement coordinator.

According to URI, the walk and run "urges participants and the URI community to be compassionate, loving, hopeful, aware, present, happy and themselves to build a healthier community."

Almost four dozen volunteers assisted.

Those unable to participate but wishing to donate can follow instructions from URI: "Make out a check to the URI Foundation/Heather Fund, or by a note, designating The Heather Fund as the recipient of the gift, and providing your name, address, amount of gift, credit card number and expiration date. Please do not send credit card information via email. Donations may be sent to: The Heather Fund, c/o The URI Foundation, P.O. Box 1700, Kingston, R.I. 02881."

Where to turn if you are considering suicide:

Anyone in immediate danger should call 911.

Other resources:

The Samaritans of Rhode Island: (401) 272-4044 or (800) 365-4044 website, samaritansri.org

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-TALK, or (800) 273-8255

The Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 "from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis." -- RELATED CONTENT: Redemption: The fall and rise of Mark Gonsalves -- G. Wayne Miller

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(c)2019 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)

Visit The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.) at www.projo.com

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