Campus & Community

Palm Beach State students stand up to suicide

Palm Beach State College students held a Stand Up to Suicide demonstration today to raise awareness of suicide and to encourage their peers struggling with depression and mental illness to seek help.

Veronica Ugarte, president of the Psychology & Human Services club, tapes a story of a life lost to suicide to a backpack.

The Psychology & Human Services Club co-sponsored the event with the PBSC College-Wide Counseling Center, Walgreens and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They placed 70 backpacks on the ground throughout the heavily traveled Student Commons area on the Lake Worth campus to symbolize the estimated 1,100 college students nationwide who die each year by suicide. Attached to the backpacks were facts about suicide and mental health, information on resources and stories of people who have died by suicide.

“I think the stories help a lot,’’ Veronica Ugarte, president of the club and an aspiring psychologist, said while setting up for the event. “I’m putting them on the backpacks, and I’m getting emotional reading them.”

“Instead of showcasing numbers, we wanted a visual presentation,’’ added club member Sofia Rodas.

The event culminated National Suicide Prevention Month, which is held each September. Jill Harrington, area director of the Florida Southeast and Florida Southwest Chapters of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, also gave a presentation on how to help people struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. She said that 99 percent of the people who die by suicide have a mental health illness, and most of the time it is an undiagnosed mental health condition.

“The more we talk about it and the more people are not embarrassed to talk about it, the more people can get the help they need,’’ she said.

Professor Jeannie Hoban, a counselor who oversees the College-Wide Counseling Center, said in 2014-2015, the counseling center saw 914 students.

“Just like all colleges and universities, we are seeing an increase in the volume and severity of cases of students with mental health crises and issues like that,’’ Hoban said. She pointed to a 2014 survey sponsored by the American College Counseling Association in which 89 percent of counseling center directors reported that there has been a steady increase in the number of students arriving on campus who already are on psychiatric medication.

“These kinds of awareness events help us to get the message out to as many students as possible that help is available,’’ she said.

Student Marx Sierra, a member of the Psychology & Human Services Club, said he can name three friends who died to suicide. “They were mentally ill, and they resorted to drugs instead of help,’’ he said. “If one person can be saved, the goal has been reached.”

Professor Suzie Duff, human services department chair and co-advisor for the student club, said such events make a difference, and she is passionate about raising awareness. “I want to make sure our students are safe and hopeful and excited about their future.”

For more information about the College-Wide Counseling Center, visit or call 561-868-3980.

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