Blues Project sheds light on darkness

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The CSUN community gathered on the steps of the Oviatt Library Wednesday night for a candlelight memorial honoring those who ended their own lives or had been impacted in some way by depression or suicide.

Elayne Woods, junior interior design major, opened the memorial by reading a poem she wrote about her struggle with depression from a young age.

“Being depressed doesn’t make me a failure,” she said. “I’m just taking it one step at a time.”

Shelley Ruelas, associate vice president of Student Access and Support Service, was there on behalf of William Watkins, vice president of Student Affairs, to thank those in attendance.

“The issues that have gathered us are heartwrenching. I know you’ve been through that valley, unsure if you would make it,” she said. “When we go through that struggle, we find the strength and hope in knowing that our experiences can have positive impacts on others struggling. There is a well of resilience inside all of us.”

This week has been a time for students to learn about depression awareness and suicide prevention by attending several events put on by the Blues Project and other on-campus organizations as part of Beat the Blues Week.

Vaheh Hartoonian, assistant coordinator for peer programs and co-facilitator for the Blues Project, said this time of year tends to be very stressful for students.

“First, it has to do with the typical stressors associated with the holiday season. Second, we’re just a couple of weeks away from finals week, which is a very challenging part of the semester,” he said. “Generally, we hope to remind students to take care of themselves and each other. We want to promote a positive and encouraging attitude around campus (and) offer information.”

Andrea Elzy, coordinator for the Blues Project, said suicide among college students is a nationwide epidemic.

“Many pressures that this population experience can be tremendous. Academic pressures, professional pressures, and personal pressures can often cause a great deal of stress and emotional distress for many,” she said.

Larisa Villa, a graduate intern with the Blues Project, said the National Institute on Mental Health reported suicide as the second leading cause of death among college students.

“Up to 44 percent of college students also report feeling symptoms of depression, based on the American College of Health Association. That is four to five students out of every 10, which is significant,” Villa said.

Elzy said the decision to have Beat the Blues Week at this time in the semester was important to show the Project is an amazing resource.

“(It’s) an opportunity of involvement for students (and) for the campus community to be immersed in these themes early on in the semester, particularly during the holiday season, which can be difficult for some,” Elzy said. “Additionally, finals week can be a stressful time for students as well, so providing them with additional resources, workshops, and opportunities to de-stress and promote self-care (and care for each other) was equally important.”

Sandra Michel, president of the Blues Project, said it is a really great experience because there are a large group of people that experience suicide or depression. Michel first heard about the project through a psychology department information session.

“They taught you how to get involved in the community,” said Michel, senior psychology major. “I found out about the Blues Project, peer programs, the HelpLine and other resources.”

She stressed that peer mentors are not educational professionals but are there for people that need to talk.

“It’s vital to create a safe environment for individuals,” Michel said.

In addition to working with the Blues Project, Michel also works for the CSUN HelpLine.

“Just last week I had a situation where the individual was suicidal and I needed to de-escalate the situation,” she said. “She told me she had pills in her hand and was going to make the attempt. I asked her to walk away from the harmful object and she started to calm down.”

After the person calmed down, Michel said the girl began to express her feelings.

“I have to care about what’s happening,” she said. “I’m not a mental health professional but I was able to be there and be helpful.”

The Blues Project is unique to CSUN in that it is a program specific to the campus.

“I truly believe in the power of this program, and its ability to support the student community, so the hope is that other administrators at other campuses will feel the same,” Elzy said.

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