GSA holds suicide vigil

 “Healing for Yesterday, Educating Today, and Hope for Tomorrow” was this year’s theme for the second Suicide Awareness/Prevention Candlelight Vigil on November 11.

MCCC’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) hosted the Candlelight Vigil to remove the stigma of suicide from today’s society and provide resources for people who have thoughts of taking their own life.

Ally Shyllander, co-chair of the GSA at MCCC, said suicide is prevalent among GSA members, and nearly 30% of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community has attempted suicide.

“Although the LGBTQ community members live happy and successful lives, the awareness still needs to be made,” she said.

Last year, the GSA hosted the first Candlelight Vigil during suicide awareness week in September.

Since veterans have a suicide rate that is 50% higher than someone who has not served, the GSA decided to host the second vigil on Veteran’s Day, Shyllander said.

“This is a great way to show resources to those who need them and a great way for remembrance,” said Kaye Lani Rafko-Wilson, Executive director of Gabby’s Ladder. “It shows how it can affect a community.”

Gabby’s Ladder offers grief support groups for all ages at no cost, Rafko-Wilson said.

The left behind support group is specifically directed towards adults who are left behind after a loved one completes suicide.

The phrase “committed suicide” is often used but Rafko-Wilson said they like to use the phrase “completed suicide”.

This is because completed is a softer word; committed is often associated with crime, she said.  The victim has an agenda and when they are finished, they completed their tasks.

“If someone is thinking they are better off dead, it is our job to help them understand this is short term and they can overcome this,” Rafko-Wilson said.

It is exciting the college is doing this; I’m really grateful to be a part of this, she said.

“People are so quick to go to a doctor if they are physically sick, but not mentally,” Rafko-Wilson added. “A person suffering needs to tell someone they trust that they need to get to a safe place and make things better.”

“Mental health needs to be treated in par with physical health,” said Dr. Mark Naber, professor of mathematics at MCCC.

Guests Diane Mackey and Jim Gross feel like our society does not do enough to prevent or acknowledge suicide.

“Stress and anxiety lead to poor self-image,” Mackey said. “We need to be kinder and nicer to one another; suicide has gotten out of control.”

GSA members Gabriel Trejo, Ally Shyllander, and Ian Leach were featured on Toledo 11 News (WTOL) on November 7.

They were contacted by WTOL to talk about the vigil, Shyllander said.

The main things they discussed were how it was relevant to the GSA, why suicide needs to be talked about, and the agenda for the night.

Dr. Melissa Grey, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Co-Adviser of the GSA at MCCC, was a guest speaker at the event.

 “Suicide is something a person considers when they feel they have no help,” Grey said.

She thought the event went well overall and could see that everyone was very moved, she said.

‘’Everyone who was there was there for the right reason,” Grey added.  “We helped someone regardless of how small the crowd was.”

“Even if one person was there, it still would have been worth helping them,” Rafko-Wilson said.

Grey got very emotional when she was presenting a story about Leelah Alcorn, a 14-year-old transgender who took her own life.

She also noted that youth are three times more likely to commit suicide. Societies should implement policies to prevent unfair treatment, she said.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year-olds.

 “There are great organizations and resources out there for help,” Grey said. “People just tend to not be comfortable talking about it.”

It is up to the GSA if they wish to continue doing the vigil every year, Grey said.

 “It is important for people to know they are not alone,” Rafko-Wilson said.