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COC holds event for mental health awareness

Posted: May 7, 2013 6:03 p.m.
Updated: May 7, 2013 6:03 p.m.

Students walk along the path by 1,100 chairs set up on the College of the Canyons Valencia campus to acknowledge the average 1,100 college students per year who commit suicide in the U.S. The display was part of the college's "Shine a Light on Sucide Prevention & Awareness" event held today and Wednesday. Signal photo by Dan Watson

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More than 1,000 white, folding chairs lined College of the Canyons’ Honor Grove Tuesday, but they weren’t there to celebrate graduation.

Rather, the chairs served as a stark reminder of the 1,100 college students on average nationwide who commit suicide every year.

The chairs were set up to provide some visual contest for the college’s “Shine a Light on Suicide Prevention and Awareness” event, said Gayle Freund, program specialist for the college’s Student Health and Wellness Center.

“It’s one thing to hear that 1,100 students commit suicide every year, but to see it in such a dramatic display has really touched home,” Freund said.

Funding for the display came from grants COC received to raise awareness about mental illness, she said.

Another condition of those grants was to shed light on some of the types of mental-health services offered in the Santa Clarita Valley. As a result, representatives from the Child & Family Center, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital and National Alliance on Mental Illness were all on hand Tuesday.

“I think mental illness is something that people are sometimes afraid to talk about,” said Zee Dankworth, outreach coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness branch that serves the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys. “So getting out here and combating that stigma is very important.”

People who came by the display were encouraged to tie a ribbon around a signpost if suicide had affected them personally in some way. More than 40 such ribbons had been tied as of 1:30 p.m.

“I think it’s a good way to show people that they’re not alone,” Freund said of the ribbons.

The “Shine a Light” event continues Wednesday at the Valencia campus of COC, 26455 Rockwell Canyon Road.
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