Students of NYU’s Active Minds chapter gathered in Washington Square Park for a candlelight vigil Tuesday night in honor of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. After tabling and handing out flyers and information packets to interested passersby, organization members lit electric candles in commemoration of those who had taken their own lives.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which is being commemorated by the nonprofit Active Minds, a student-led organization with chapters on college campuses across the nation. The organization was founded in 2003 by Alison Malmon after her brother took his life while at school.
The NYU Active Minds chapter is among the youngest in the organization, first officially recognized in Spring 2014. Active Minds Co-President and CAS junior Seema Chaudhari said she was motivated to join by her personal encounters with mental illness.
“Growing up as a first generation U.S. citizen, with the language and cultural barriers of a first generation U.S. citizen and difficulty making friends, I thought I wouldn’t make it to my 20s,” Chaudhari said.
The vigil featured a poster explaining the event and encouraging bystanders to take a bag and write some words about what suicide means to them. Several participants memorialized loved ones they had lost; on one bag, drawings of butterflies were accompanied by a quote from yoga teacher Bikram Choudhury: “You’re never too old, never too sick, never too late, and never too bad to start from the scratch once again.”
Chaudhari’s story is also one that is echoed by many others. Active Minds Treasurer Eleni Papadoyannis recalls how unprepared she was when talking to a friend who had expressed thoughts of self-harm and suicide.
“It was never really discussed directly, and that’s part of the problem,” Papadoyannis said. “It took physical scars to get her notice and systems of supports.”
The NYU community has experienced the trauma of suicide as recently as last August. The issue drew national attention when four students died by suicide in 2004, prompting the university to install a barrier around the staircase in Bobst Library.
The stated goal of Active Minds is empowering students “to change the perception about mental health on college campuses” so that students living with mental illness can feel comfortable seeking the help and resources they need.
Papadoyannis said the vigil was meant to start discussion and draw mental health out from the silence.
“Talking about it is a key way to pay attention to how you’re feeling and how others are feeling,” Papadoyannis said.
As dusk began to settle and the park’s iconic arch lit up, candles were lit and placed inside the bags in a semi-circle. LS sophomore and co-president Mina Mathur spoke to those in attendance about how suicide affects many people, saying she believes that through the efforts of Active Minds in promoting open discussion on campus, more students will know that there is help.
“College students have a lot of stressors, and we’re here to spread a message of humanity and support,” Mathur said.
Email Abraham Gross at [email protected]