Edinboro University hosts informational seminar in honor of Mental Health Awareness week

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Suicide is a mental illness that claims the lives of even those who can make the world laugh.
EUP students attend NAMI event

By Emma Gering
Staff Writer/Spectator

On Oct. 7, students of Edinboro attended an event sponsored by The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), and Edinboro University’s own CAPS program to provide an overview of mental health and mental illness, as well as suicide awareness, prevention and risk factors. The event corresponded with Mental Health Awareness week, in which workers of the mental health fields work hard to raise awareness and foster a dialogue regarding the stigmatization of mental health in America.

The program began with Dr. Michael Bucell introducing himself to the students. Bucell is the director of psychological services on campus. He welcomed Emily Kerchak from NAMI of Erie County to discuss with college students the reality of suicide, and preven tative measures that can be taken to seek help for one, friends, family members or even strangers. 

Kerchak helps many of families of Erie County who are con fronting the problems of mental illness.

After the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012, Kerchak states that NAMI “experienced a 72 percent increase in client calls and program enrollment.”

These all too frequent occurrences brought to us by media generate a public concern. Organizations like NAMI are at the public’s disposal to help answer questions and offer connections and services.

In a comprehensive PowerPoint, Kerchak discussed the characteristics, symptoms and signs of mental illness.

“Education is the key to breaking the stigma,” says Kerchak.

From her speech alone, she shed light on a cultural taboo that she expressed needed to be openly discussed.

“Mental illness does not discriminate” was the message Kerchak wanted students to take away from the seminar. Despite all external influence, a “chemical imbalance in the brain’s chemistry” should be regarded as seriously as a broken arm, or malignant cancer according to Kerchak. One in four individuals will experience some form of mental illness in their life. Kerchak made it clear that in minimizing the truth behind mental health, we are minimizing other’s suffering and quality of life.

Kerchak explained the differences between a patient with a normal brain and one who has a chemical imbalance, resulting in a mental illness. Kerchak expressed that someone with a mental ill ness is not someone being lazy, or having a lack of will.

Consider the brain scans of two hypothetical humans. A human diagnosed with schizophrenia, for instance, will produce an entirely different brain scan than one with no diagnoses, with different synapses occurring routinely.

“Mental illness affects a person’s ability to relate to others, their thinking, their feelings and their moods.”

Though it sometimes takes months, and even years to be diagnosed with a mental illness, some issues may reoccur which could indicate potential illnesses. The most commonly recognized, and easiest to treat, are illnesses found under the category of pho bias, anxiety disorders and panic disorders. It’s important to note though, that even if a diagnosis is reached; treating the illness is often another area of contention. Kerchak explained that medicines can often have unintended side effects, and sometimes counseling and partial programs are not enough.

Kerchak briefly summarized mental illness, so as to focus on the predominant topic of the evening, suicide.

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of American adult’s deaths, and third leading cause in the average college student’s age group, at 1,100 per year. Kerchak stated, “It’s crucial to intervene in in stances where suicidal ideation is voiced or alluded to.” It can be as simple as asking, “How are you feeling?” or “is there anything I can do to help?”

“There are a lot of new responsibilities when you’re entering the college world alone, and it can be stressful,” said Kerchak. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Males complete suicide four times more often than females, but females attempt it 23 times more often than males. Alcohol and or drugs were found to be used in more than 1/3 of all completed suicide cases. Alcohol and drug use can lower inhibition, and the chemical makeup of the brain is distorted because of substance abuse. Eighty seven percent of successful suicides had an under lying mental illness that went untreated and manifested into ca strophe.

Over a 4-year period, Erie County specifically spiked in suicide rates. Kerchak said it’s likely a direct correlation to the increase of heroin use in the county, resulting in lethal overdoses. These individuals likely had an underlying mental illness that was undetected or unrecognized. Drug use reportedly became the refuge in a desperate attempt to find a coping mechanism that provided temporary relief for a serious issue in these cases.

Kerchak stated the, “critical risk factors to consider when assessing suicidal ideation are a history of previous suicide attempts, including individual and familial, a history of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, a stressful life event or loss, easy access to lethal weapons, exposure to suicidal behavior of others and incarceration.”

The warning signs are a bit more forthcoming, including things like threatening to hurt or kill themselves, seeking “means”, feelings of hopelessness, loneliness and withdrawing from social environments, and reckless behavior.

“Mental health recovery is a process that has to be worked on and talked about,” says Kerchak.

Treatment is different for everybody, from counseling, to therapy, to medication. With effective treatment, for example, depression can be 80 percent treatable, compared to heart disease, which is roughly 45 percent treatable. If a student is struggling and wishes to look for treatment, it is suggested to begin the path to recovery by seeking the help of others. Speaking up isn’t always easy, but in the end it could save a life.

Emma Gering is the staff writer for The Spectator. She can be reached by eupnews.spectator@gmail.com