December 3, 2020

After suicide attempts and death of a classmate, students create awareness week

Click here to read testimonials of parents who’ve lost their children to suicide.
After several attempted suicides on campus last year and the death of Mason Gaddis from suicide on Sept. 28, 2010, a group of Webster University students united to create a Suicide Awareness Week (SAW).
“This week is about reaching out to those who may have been where Mason was before he killed himself and trying to help them so they don’t make the same decision,” Forest Wharton, sophomore film production major, said.
The formation of SAW began on Sept. 7, 2011, at about 2 a.m. during a conversation between Daniel Bauman, sophomore journalism major, and Wharton. Bauman and Wharton were friends with Gaddis, and lived with him in a learning community on Maria Hall’s first floor last year.
“I forgot how we got on the subject, but we started talking about Mason who died last year from suicide and Dan said ‘I would really like to do some sort of program to help inform people’ and we just started pitching around ideas,” Wharton said.
They continued to talk about ideas for about half an hour.
“At that point he said, ‘It would be so great if we could do it’, ” Wharton said. “I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”
That night they created a Facebook page titled, “Designing a Suicide Awareness Week.” The first few posts stated the rough ideas for the week and asked for thoughts from others.
Within hours the page was flooded with ideas, suggestions and support. The first was from Jay Russell at 4:26 a.m. Russell was Gaddis’ RA last year on Maria Hall’s first floor.
“This is a really good idea. I was just talking to my residents about why September 28th will never be the same,” Russell posted to the Facebook page.
Kelly Boruff, sophomore film production major, quickly volunteered to help organize the week. Boruff was also friends with Gaddis and lived in the learning community.
Boruff said although Gaddis may have inspired SAW, the loss of him is not the week’s focus. The events are designed for everyone affected in any way by depression and suicide.
“We are trying to acknowledge that depression is there and it’s an issue with people, but we’re also trying to show that there are people here to help you and that life is something that is very valuable,” Boruff said. “We want others to know there are other people who have gone through the same things they’ve gone through and there’s hope out there and life goes on.”
A Candlelight Ceremony was held on Monday Nov. 7 in the Sunnen Lounge. Students came and lit candles for those they know who depression or suicide has affected.
After Gaddis’ death, his friends held their own candlelight ceremony outside Maria Hall—a visual representation of all the people he affected.
“We all gathered and talked about memories that we had,” Boruff said. “It was comforting to see all the other people there.”
On Tuesday Nov. 8, the Counseling department held a “What to Do” seminar to inform students what they should do when someone expresses a desire to commit suicide. Boruff said she hoped the event would bring counseling into a brighter light.
Donations for the Mason Gaddis Scholarship fund will be collected outside Marletto’s Marketplace at a hot dog stand on Wednesday, Nov. 9. The scholarship benefits audio production majors. To make money, Gaddis would sell hot dogs in the Delmar Loop.
“I feel like that event is more for our group of friends who all have that connection with him because we know that’s what he did on the weekends,” Boruff said. “It’s something that we can look at and smile, but it’s also raising awareness and raising money.”
Marian McCord, founder of CHADs Coalition for Mental Health, and Linda Holtzman, communications professor and founder of The Dora Project, will share their stories and hold an informative talk on Thursday, Nov. 10. McCord’s son, Chad, committed suicide in 2004 and Holtzman’s daughter, Dora, committed suicide in 2008.
SAW will play “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” after the talk. The movie was first a book by Ned Vizzini, and is a story dear to Boruff.
“That was my baby in the process,” Boruff said. “It kind of relates to the whole week that we’re planning. The main story behind the movie is life is good and it has a happy ending to it.”

Editor’s Note: Daniel Bauman is a staff writer and distribution editor for The Journal.

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