The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill canceled classes Tuesday as campus authorities investigated two possible suicides in the past month.
University Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz made the announcement via email on Sunday, which was also World Mental Health Day.
“We are in the midst of a mental health crisis, both on our campus and across our country, and we recognize that college-aged students are at increased risk for suicide,” Guskiewicz said. “This crisis has directly affected members of our community, particularly with the deaths of two students on campus last month.”
The announcement adds: “After meeting with students and faculty leaders over the weekend, I am announcing a wellness day for our students on Tuesday, October 12, as a step in the fight against health. mental. Classes will be canceled. “
The dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC emailed instructors on Sunday evening reminding them to offer flexibility to students.
UNC junior Kendra Randle woke up to learn that two students attempted suicide, first via social media and then via the campus newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel.
“There are times when I can’t even express how I feel and I just hope the friends and families of these students are okay,” she told USA TODAY. “I’m still shocked because no one prepares you for suicide, you can never prepare for it, but it doesn’t surprise me that people are really struggling right now.”
She uses her day off to relax and check with her friends how they are doing.
“Remember you come first,” is Randle’s message to the other students. “School is never so important where it deeply affects you.”
Emma Olson, senior at UNC, told USA TODAY that she was frustrated when she saw the school ad arrive in her inbox. She had learned of the suicides from friends and on social media before hearing from college.
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“Honestly, I was pretty angry because I watched people on social media begging the school to post a statement,” she said.
The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit focused on mental health and suicide prevention among adolescents and young adults, found that 63% of students say their emotional health was worse than before the COVID pandemic. 19 and 1 in 5 students have had thoughts of suicide in the past month.
Dr. Rachel Kreitzer, professor of public policy and political science at UNC, has noticed a slight increase in mental health issues among her students over the past year.
“I am very concerned, especially as I speak to my students who are struggling with anxiety and depression with the pandemic and the transition to school,” she told USA TODAY. “Being exposed to someone’s death by suicide can increase suicide rates.”
The mental health crisis is an institution-wide issue, she said, but she feels individuals are carrying the burden of supporting students.
“It also affects the mental health and morale of our graduate students as well as our faculty and staff, who shoulder the burden of helping students navigate this space,” she added.
The university said 90% of its students were vaccinated, while only 54% of North Carolina is fully vaccinated, according to state data. Olson believes the pressure from school, made worse by the pandemic, is contributing to an increase in mental health problems in college.
She accessed the school’s mental health services during her freshman year of college, but was referred to an out-of-network therapist that she couldn’t afford.
Olson decided to retire from the fall semester to focus on her mental health and the heavy pressure she was feeling from school and the pandemic.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can call the United States National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) anytime, day or night, or have a chat. in line.
Crisis Text Line also provides free confidential 24/7 SMS support to people in crisis when they dial 741741.