Since she was three years old, Amanda Uhme has been trying to wrap her mind around suicide. From elementary school to high school, she could only talk about it with her mom and her best friend. When she came to college, Uhme finally learned how to discuss it.
The subject came up at a group dinner last year. When her friend’s parents asked Uhme about her own parents, she told them her father had passed away.
“On the way home, I sent [my friend] a text message saying, ‘I don’t know how to talk about this with anyone, but my father committed suicide,'” Uhme, a sophomore, said. “And it took off from there.”
After that night, Uhme became more comfortable talking about suicide. Now that she’s the publicity chair for the GW chapter of Active Minds, a new student organization on campus devoted to mental health, Uhme has made talking about suicide part of her job.
Uhme’s father committed suicide when she was just a toddler. Though she didn’t realize the impact of his suicide at the time, Uhme said the coping process began when she was about 10 years old.
“I think it’s been a process up until now of just coming to terms with why it happened and seeing if it was my fault, like I didn’t do enough as a three-and-a-half-year-old, which I’ve realized in time is a ridiculous thought process,” Uhme said. “I couldn’t have stopped it or anything like that.”
As a suicide survivor, Uhme said she wishes there were more people like her that she could talk to, people who would understand her situation.
On Saturday, Nov. 20, members of Active Minds and members of the community did just that. About two dozen suicide survivors gathered together to talk about suicide.
The event coincided with the 12th annual National Survivors of Suicide Day, which was created by a Senate resolution in 1999 through the efforts of Sen. Harry Reid, who lost his father to suicide. Each year, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention sponsors events to raise awareness about the issue.
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. One person dies from suicide every 15 minutes in the U.S.
Numbers like these motivated John Madigan, a 1980 GW alumnus and the senior director of public policy for AFSP, to fight back. After losing his sister Nancy to suicide when she was 37 years old, Madigan became involved in suicide awareness.
Through public education, survivor outreach programs, research and advocacy, he hopes to normalize the conversation about suicide, “without being overly dramatic.”
“We need to be able to talk about anything and everything,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, if you need help, it’s ok to talk about it.”
Sophomore Delaney Workman, a member of Active Minds, agrees that a stigma exists surrounding suicide and that the best way to deal with the issue is to talk about it.
“I think there a lot of people who have issues and don’t know where to let them out,” she said.
When Workman was a junior in high school in Barrington, Ill., eight students committed suicide. Workman said it was really hard for her to talk about it at the time. “I went through a depressive state in high school, and if it wasn’t for my friends and family who I talked to, it would have gotten really bad.”
Through events like SOS Day, the members of Active Minds want to start conversations about mental health on campus and provide support for suicide survivors.
“I think joining Active Minds has helped me come around and give closure to that whole coping process that started 10 years ago,” Uhme said. “So I’m glad I found an organization that can help other people not have to go through the same thing.”