Athletics creates campaign to reduce suicidal thoughts

The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and UNA Athletics are trying to reach out to students and lower the rate of students who contemplate suicide through their Connect 1 campaign.

When a student goes to counseling services, they have to fill out a questionnaire. One of the questions asks students if they have ever contemplated suicide.

The number of students who reported experiencing suicidal thoughts at any point in their life has been steadily increasing since 2012, said Game Operations and Facilities Manager Matt Daniels.

In 2013, 27 percent of students admitted to suicidal thoughts and 39 percent in 2014, Daniels said.

Student Counseling Services noticed an increase in students within the past few years reporting they experienced suicidal thoughts presently or at any point in the past but would not confirm these statistics, said Director of Student Counseling Services Lynne Martin.

“That is people we walk around with on campus, that we sit next to,” said senior and SAAC President Jacob Tucker. “It might even be your best friend because you don’t know what people are going through every day when they wake up and get out of bed.”

SAAC and UNA Athletics decided to do their part in fixing the problem, Tucker said.

“We say this is our home campus because these are the people we go to class with,” Tucker said. “This is our UNA family. When there is a problem with your family, you want to be proactive about fixing it.”

SAAC and UNA Athletics plan to reduce the amount of students who contemplate or contemplated suicide in the past by increasing the number of face-to-face interactions between students. They also want to encourage them to not put too much value in social media, Tucker said.

“Our slogan is, ‘You are more than just a like,’” Tucker said. “So many people nowadays put so much stock into social media. It is sad that is what it has come to. We really want to reverse that and get back to the old days of making friends face to face.”

Tucker said SAAC plans to start weekly challenges encouraging students to do small things such as eating with someone they don’t know at lunch.

As a part of the Connect 1 initiative, SAAC and UNA Athletics plan to hand out cards, wristbands and make videos to encourage students to reach out to unfamiliar people said UNA Athletics graduate assistant Kyle Conkle.

“We’re not trying to say don’t use social media, or that social media is awful,” said Game Operations and Facilities Director Matt Daniels “We’re just trying to say your value is much deeper than social media. You belong here and have a place here.”

Connect 1 hopes to help encourage students to have better interpersonal relationship skills, Conkle said.

“This is about more than just staying glued to our phones to find our identity and see what other people think of us,” Conkle said. “That’s (students) go-to right now. You walk into an auditorium, and if they didn’t have their cell phones right now, what would they do? They would sit in silence.”

Tucker said he feels students need to know they are important.

“So many times on campus you get plugged into your groups, like there are the Greeks or the athletes,” Tucker said. “If someone doesn’t feel like they are a part of one of those clubs, then they feel like they are just another body walking around campus.”

SAAC is trying to set an example on campus, Tucker said.

“We really want to reach out to all the other programs on campus,” he said. “This person might not be a Greek or whatever, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hang out or associate with them.”

If students are having suicidal thoughts, they can contact Student Counseling Services at 256-765-5215 to set up an appointment or visit them at 555 Oakview Circle. For emergency situations, students can contact Student Counseling Services or call at 256-764-3431 or UNA Police at 256-765-4357 if it is after business hours.

Editor’s Note: Managing Editor Mike Ezekiel and News Editor Kaitlyn Davis contributed to this story.