Education

Parents, students plan rallies at UNC-Chapel Hill after suicide investigations

Posted October 10, 2021 6:22 p.m. EDT
Updated October 11, 2021 2:53 p.m. EDT

— The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has canceled classes on Tuesday after campus police responded to a reported suicide and a suicide attempt over the weekend. Instead of class Tuesday, students will have a "wellness day," according to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

UNC police's crime log showed investigators received a call for an attempted suicide at Granville Towers South around 3 a.m. on Sunday. The police department's crime log reported a death of a student living in Hinton James Residence Hall on Saturday morning.

Guskiewicz encouraged students in a letter on Sunday night to "rest and check in with each other," on the wellness day.

"We are in the middle of a mental health crisis, both on our campus and across the nation, and we are aware that college-aged students carry an increased risk of suicide," Guskiewicz said.

The National Institute of Mental Health says suicide is the second leading cause of death among people 15 to 34. Suicides have spiked since pandemic lockdowns were put into place, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We almost have a second pandemic on our hands with mental health and suicide," said Clare Landis, a responder for Peer2Peer.

Peer2Peer is a student-led group that offers free one-on-one sessions for UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduate and graduate students.

Landis said she's seen an uptick in calls over the past two weeks.

"It's a really stressful time for students going through midterms and seniors trying to find jobs and freshmen trying to get adjusted. It's a lot in the fall and it's a lot for everyone right now," she added.

Before Guskiewicz made his announcement on Sunday, which is also World Mental Health Day, students called for university leaders to address their concerns over mental health.

Starting Tuesday, the university's counseling and psychological services, department of psychiatry, school of medicine and school of social work would be available to students, faculty and staff in different areas of campus throughout the week, Guskiewicz said.

"We are living in a world that is constantly shifting and changing," said Guskiewicz. "We are facing major challenges and the ongoing toll this takes on our health cannot be underestimated. This cannot be solved by one person, on on one day, alone."

Students at UNC-Chapel Hill have said issues exacerbating mental health have been mounting this year. They're struggling with their academics— and COVID-19 is playing a large role.

"It's been really crazy to be back [and] having to come back after being virtual," said Ishan Thaker, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Thaker said his final year at UNC-Chapel Hill has had its share of challenges, and reports of students trying to take their own lives makes it harder to concentrate.

"It's horrible. We're expected to go back to campus tomorrow and just continue our classes as if nothing is happening," he told WRAL News before the university made its announcement.

Campus efforts to address the mental health needs of students could be stronger, he said.

"The university absolutely needs to do something about this and there's just simply nothing in place right now to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students," Thaker said.

Some UNC-Chapel Hill students said they're planning a protest for Wednesday in hopes the university will do a better job of having difficult discussions about the matter and providing more adequate mental health resources.

Parents will hold a rally at The Pit on campus Thursday between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to support students and raise awareness of suicide. They also plan to give out "free hugs," according to social media posts.

The university will also hold a mental health summit later this month, according to Guskiewicz, for faculty, staff and student leaders to address the mental health crisis. UNC's Faculty Executive Committee will meet Monday at 3 p.m. but officials could not disclose the agenda.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

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