Dr. Cynthia Ellison, Executive Director of Health and Wellness at VSU, speaks to the crowd before the walk begins. Photo by Alijzah Koonce.
Dr. Cynthia Ellison, Executive Director of Health and Wellness at VSU, speaks to the crowd before the walk begins. Photo by Alijzah Koonce.

Students, faculty walk in support of suicide prevention

Several students gathered around the front of Foster Hall Thursday, Sept. 21 for the Suicide Prevention Walk. Everyone geared their attention to the stairs as the speakers orated and the voices of the VSU Gospel Chorale sang.

The energy of the crowd swelled as they were instructed to chant, “I will keep fighting! I will keep fighting!”

This chant was reflective of the mental fight students endure on a daily basis.

The Woo Woo’s pose with the Annual Suicide Prevention Awareness Walk banner. The group kicked off the walk by marching in front. Photos by Alijzah Koonce.

“It’s really hard being a student and I don’t think a lot of people realize that,” sophomore Ramir Askew said. “Everybody goes through stuff… everybody needs some help.”

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College students are often forced to push aside anything that doesn’t directly align with school. Little do they know, neglecting their mental wellness is the farthest from beneficial.

Dr. Cynthia Ellison, Executive Director of Health and Wellness at VSU, provided insight on why mental health is so pivotal.

“If your mind isn’t well, none of you is well. You have to be whole mentally before you can excel academically. Everything starts in the mind,” Ellison said.

The mind is the crux of overall health. Poor mental health bleeds into other aspects of life.

“If we’re not mentally, emotionally, spiritually aligned with ourselves, often times we may do things that jeopardize our future,” junior Javay Simms said.

VSU students aren’t exempt from the consequences of the mental health crisis. A number of students actually aren’t in a stable mental space.

“63% of the 1402 students that visited the counseling center last academic year circled suicidal ideation in the last 30 days. We put 34 kids in the hospital,” Ellison said.

Despite the data, the university is doing its best to be of aid to student’s mental health and wellness.

“Our tagline at Virginia State is, ‘Mental health is everybody’s business.’”

New counseling services and events like the Suicide Prevention Walk, prove VSU indeed lives by that motto.

“The wellness days are a good thing. Let me tell you a resource they’re just implementing… we now have 24/7 response. If you call 804-524-5939, a VSU counselor will answer,” Ellison said.

Markita Madden, Programs Manager for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Virginia, commended the university for its support for better mental health.

“I think it’s awesome that you all are going to have access to counselors 24/7. I know that from working with other universities, that is a big stumbling block for a lot of students that the counseling centers are only available during normal business hours,” Madden said.

“I think that speaks volumes on the culture that you all are trying to create here around mental health.”

Support can be what assuages a student’s depressive mindset. Often students don’t realize the university is here to help.

“The school does their best… that’s why I want to help support that. It’s good to be out here and support everyone because everyone needs a shoulder to lean on,” Askew said.

“You’re hosting events like this, making sure people know where the resources are before they actually need them, making sure they know where other resources are and just building that community of support,” Madden said.

“I tell people I got into this work initially because of the people that I lost. I stay in the work now because of the people that are still here, and I want to keep them here.”

VSU wants to keep students not only here, but well.

“We’re a system. If you’re not well I’m not well. If I’m not well, you’re not well,” Ellison said.

The university’s mental health services are located in Memorial Hall. A simple phone call can also access these services.

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