Suicide Prevention week brings butterflies from the Mizzou Suicide Prevention Coalition

“Ideally, we would like to try and reach every student at Mizzou because mental illness is something that doesn’t discriminate,” Co-Founder and Director of MSPC Julia Schroer said.
MU student Elise Tadros releases a butterfly Sept. 10, 2015, as a part of an event put on by the Mizzou Suicide Prevention Coalition in recognition of World Suicide Prevention Week. MSPC aims to remove the stigma associated with using the word 'suicide' and raise awareness and connect students to resources for suicide prevention. Courtesy of Hanna Yowell of Mizzou Creative

A beautiful blend of orange and brown wings painted the sky and fluttered above the crowd of students as part of a National Suicide Prevention Week memorial event Sept. 10.

The Mizzou Suicide Prevention Coalition, an organization dedicated to raising awareness for suicide prevention methods, held the memorial event at Francis Quadrangle. The purpose of the event was to honor those affected by suicide and mental illness. The butterflies were meant to be a symbol of hope.

The MSPC is only one-year-old. Co-Founder and Director of MSPC Julia Schroer said last year they realized National Suicide Prevention Week was approaching and wondered why no one was doing anything. A group of students decided to hold their first memorial event using lanterns.

This year, the lanterns were replaced by butterflies.

For sophomore Danielle Katz releasing butterflies is like life. Sometimes it will not match expectations. Katz was one of more than 200 people who turned out for the butterfly release.

“I almost lost someone I really care about, and that is why I am here today,” Katz said. “I could have if I hadn’t done something, and that is what today is about: doing something. We have to speak. We have to act to do what we can to prevent people from taking their own lives.”

The butterflies at the event were wrapped in piece of paper saying “Living is Conquering.”

“One of the biggest points we wanted to get across is that it is not only in memory of those we have lost but to honor and give hope to those who are currently struggling with mental illness,” Schroer said. “Studies show one in four people on college campuses are struggling with mental health. We really want to recognize those people as well and show that they are not alone.”

Katz said the butterflies were not agile when released, similar to how people coming out of facing something are not perfect.

This year, there were supposed to be balloons. Because of the high number they saw on their Facebook event, they realized they had to change it. Schroer said she Googled alternatives to balloon releases, and butterflies were the best alternative she could find.

“This is an even better visual representation, yet still hopeful,” Co-founder and Director of MSPC Morgan Domijan said. “There is still life in it. When you see butterflies, you see life, you see hope. It didn’t mean to happen, but I think it was meant to happen.”

After the event, they saw the potential to bring more awareness, she said.

“We came together because we realized a conversation needed to happen, and no one wanted to talk about it,” Domijan said.

In a matter of days after the memorial service the organization formed last year, Schroer said. The MSPC then grew to a steering committee currently consisting of 25 people.

“Not only did we want to join forces to plan events but also to start a conversation,” Domijan said. “We have realized in the past year that a conversation has started on our campus. It is amazing to see people actually saying the word suicide, and for it to not be a scary word. People aren’t afraid to use it.”

Domijan said she did not think this organization would grow this big so quickly.

“(Suicide) is not talked about enough,” Domijan said. “People are scared, and there is nothing to be scared about. People don’t know who to reach out to or how to talk about it. When you start reaching out to people, it opens up so many doors for people who had no idea that those doors could be opened.”

The event raised $700 for Wake Up, a documentary about suicide prevention. Participants could purchase a $10 tank top or a $5 individualized package containing a real-life butterfly.

Katz said the over 200-person turnout shows that MU students care about this issue. She said she overheard someone that said they were surprised by the outcome because he believed students only cared about alcohol and getting high.

“We are all here because we all know somebody or it affects us,” Katz said. “When someone hears someone has attempted suicide sometimes people just go straight for ‘That was stupid’ instead of asking ‘Are they OK?’”

Domijan said MSPC dedicated a lot of time to building the organization during their first active semester. They plan to work hand in hand with other resources and collaborating to spread the message this year, Schroer said.

“I think with a new organization there is a lot of trial and error,” Schroer said. “We have brainstormed ways to make our events better and better.”

Schroer said they also want to find a way to share the training they have received with the rest of the student population.

Domijan said this year they want students to know who they are and that they are here to help anyone who needs it. Schroer said she wants to publicize the many resources that are available on campus.

“A lot of people who are struggling with suicide and contemplating suicide are silenced,” Schroer said. “And that’s obviously not purposefully. I think that can be in part due to the stigma and the fear of what others might think of them if they do seek out help. Also it can be in part because they are not sure how to get help.”

MU offers many mental health resources to students including the Student Health Center, Mid-Missouri Crisis line, MU Counseling Center, Mizzou Suicide Prevention Coalition and the Wellness Resource Center.

Domijan said it would be beneficial if people knew how to respond to others who have a mental illness.

“There is program out already there called ‘Ask Listen Refer,’” Domijan said. “It’s so simple, and a lot people think they know half the answers to it, but they actually don’t. If they were trained on this 20-minute training, it would be so helpful.”

Although this is Domijan and Schroer’s last year in school, Schroer hopes that the organization continues to grow even when they are not there.

“Ideally, we would like to try and reach every student at Mizzou because mental illness is something that doesn’t discriminate,” Schroer said.

Applications for the steering committee will be released in November.

“This is definitely only the beginning,” Domijan said. There is so much potential and I know that the committee we have, is filled with strong leaders. They will not only do a good job continuing our message but growing it as well.”

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