UW students share personal stories of suicidal thoughts to raise - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UW students share personal stories of suicidal thoughts to raise awareness on campus

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Madison (WKOW)-- Students on UW-Madison campus are hoping to prevent the 2nd leading cause of death amongst college students. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, more than 38,000 people committed suicide in 2010. That makes it the 10th leading cause of death amongst Americans, but in terms of teenagers and college students it's an even bigger issue.

On Sunday afternoon, students held the 4th Annual Suicide Prevention Walk in Madison. The event was organized by student group Ask.Listen.Save. Many of its members have personal stories of depression and attempted suicide.

"I no longer felt that life was worth living. I spent most days considering how to kill myself, writing letters to my family and my friends saying goodbye to them," walk coordinator Trisha Luengen says.

Saturday afternoon UW Senior Trisha Luengen shared her emotional memories of being a 12-year-old middle schooler struggling with anxiety and depression. Through the help of a few friends and family members she was able to find the help she needed to make it through high school. Freshman year at UW-Madison however, was a different story.

"The transition from high school into college is very difficult and you know, coming here and all of a sudden you're on your own and you're independent," Luengen says.

A scared and timid freshman, Luengen found the group Ask.Listen.Save and immediately found a sense of belonging. Three years later she talks about her transformation from a struggling freshman into a strong and confident senior who was chosen to coordinate this year's suicide prevention walk.

"I couldn't tell you if I would be alive right now if it wasn't for this organization. I'm very proud to say that this organization has saved my life," Luengen says.

The walk around campus has grown to become the largest student-run suicide prevention walk in the nation. Last year it brought in around $40,000. This year organizers say $24,000 was brought in through online donations alone. They're still calculating their in-person donations. More than 500 people signed up for this year's walk. Organizers say it's a significant increase from having less than a hundred walkers just four years ago.

"We do this every year. It's a great way to honor our friend and show people they're not alone," walk participant Maddy Flynn says.

Health officials at UW-Madison say they're putting more time and energy into suicide prevention initiatives on campus. It's all thanks to a $300,000 grant they received in 2013 to help students who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. The money helped pay for a brand new software program that teaches students and faculty how to identify people who may be suffering from anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. The program walks them through the steps you need to take in order to get them help and support.

The grant money also funded new suicide prevention initiatives on campus and paid for new offices for student groups like Ask.Listen.Save. Members of the group say their biggest goal is to eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental illness and suicide. They're hoping someday students will be as comfortable asking for help with mental health problems as they are with asking for help with homework.

"If we can get rid of the stigma behind this and make people feel like they're not alone, we will save more lives," Luengen says. "People shouldn't be ashamed because they're having a tough time. We all have our rough moments."



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