The conversation no one is having

Next time you’re in a classroom – or if you’re reading this in class right now – look around at your fellow classmates. When you exit the classroom, look around at the students walking to their next destination. Odds are, at least one of them is suffering from a severe mental illness, has thought of or is planning to end their own lives.

Most colleges student feel the pressure of perfection. I know I did.

As college students and as young adults, we feel the pressure to do everything right – taking the perfect classes, making the perfect grades, finding that perfect college job, landing that perfect internship and finding the perfect fit for you once you graduate from school.

And while many of us find solace in the fact that we have strong support systems and know that things will ultimately turn out for the better, many students can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Many find their efforts to be worthless, and feel that they will never get far in life.

This sort of mentality – deemed the “Pressure of Perfection” by the New York Times – is responsible for the lives of 1,100 college students who commit suicide each academic year, according to Active Minds, an organization dedicated to the conversation of suicide and mental health issues on college campuses.

Active Minds’ efforts have created nationwide demonstrations called “Send Silence Packing” on college campuses in which backpacks are laid across college quads to represent the lives that were taken by the pressure to be the perfect college student.

The practice has blown up on college campuses across the country, with over 400 active chapters and Send Silence Packing in practice, along with multiple Send Silence Packing tours planned for the Midwest and for the Southern United States.

This practice allows for college students to put a face on the name of college suicide, and look at the harrowing effects face-to-face.

Many students on FAU’s mostly beautiful, sunny campus struggle with strong mental health and/or suicidal thoughts, whether or not we realize it at first.

Some things are said and done about the issue of mental health and stress reduction, but I believe we could also stand to have a stronger conversation about suicidal thoughts and our own students could very well be facing and are being affected by.

I have dear, close friends who have seriously considered ending their lives over the fact that they got a low or failing grade on one exam. I remember watching a friend have a breakdown in my room over the fact that he didn’t pass a class, and heard him ask himself why he’s still here.

I remember once feeling like the best option would be to end it all. I thought that even though I had great grades, a great GPA and a generally positive number of organizations under my belt, I felt like this was all I was ever going to achieve.

I did not feel that many people liked me, I felt like I always failed or messed up every job interview I walked into. I felt lonely, alone, depressed and scared. There were horrific nights where I almost convinced myself that taking my own life would have been the best option. Writing this article now, I’m glad that I was never fully convinced.

As a college community, we need to ensure that we have adequate conversations on the topic of mental health and suicide.

We need to be sure that we are there to lend a helping hand to those who feel that they are drowning and cannot breathe, that we are telling our classmates as well as ourselves that making a mistake once in a while is okay, and that we are not alone, even though it may seem like it.

As to how we get this conversation started? Start being more welcoming. Smile in the direction of a stranger, say hello. Ask them how their day was or is going. Spark a conversation and let them know that you are open to talk about anything that may be bothering them.

Knowing that at least one person cares outside of their familial support structure can help brighten the day of a complete stranger and let them know that there is always hope and a helping hand. Be open to make a difference in another person’s life, even if it is minimal. You never know what kind of impact it’ll have.

If you would like to know more about the Send Silence Packing movement and/or about the Active Minds Organization, visit here