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BU student groups co-host suicide forum after deaths of Newton teens

Boston University mental health awareness groups Out of Darkness and Active Minds hosted a forum Wednesday night in the College of Arts and Sciences for students to discuss the recent suicides in Newton and the stigma of suicide. GRAPHIC BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Boston University mental health awareness groups Out of Darkness and Active Minds hosted a forum Wednesday night in the College of Arts and Sciences for students to discuss the recent suicides in Newton and the stigma of suicide. GRAPHIC BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Students tackled topics of suicide and mental health at an open forum Wednesday co-hosted by Boston University student groups Active Minds and Out of the Darkness.

The forum was held in response to the February death of Roee Grutman, one of three Newton high school students, including Katie Stack and Karen Douglas, who committed suicide within a four-month period. The forum was held to start a conversation about and the ways that suicide can be prevented, said Rosie Bauder of Out of the Darkness.

“Many parents are attributing their deaths to insurmountable expectations of excellence that schools have of their students,” Bauder, a College of Arts and Sciences junior, said. “To the best of their parents knowledge, both Katie and Karen were struggling with mental illness, while Roee showed no signs of distress or suicidality.”

Students are susceptible to the various stresses of school as young adults, causing a strain to their continually developing psyches, which do not fully mature until the age of 25, Bauder said.

“Suicidality does not discriminate,” she said. “Anyone can be vulnerable to any number of environmental or biological factors that when added with stress or trauma can be overwhelming and lead to thoughts of suicide.”

Speaker Francine Montemurro, Boston University’s first Ombud, or problem-solving resource in the BU community, said in her presentation that people exhibiting suicidal behavior often do not seek help.

“I see people everyday, faculty, staff, students who are typically in some kind of pickle, some kind of crisis,” Montemurro said. “They don’t often know where to turn to and often the stakes are high. On occasion I saw some people who concerned me about suicide, but the people at Behavioral Medicine were right there for me.”

President of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Newton Sidney Gelb, who spoke at the forum, said 25 percent of people in the prison system suffer from mental illness and without the proper training prison guards often don’t understand mental illnesses.

“I was appalled because [the guards] were blaming the individual for being mentally ill,” Gelb said. “The whole thrust of it was that whatever [the inmates] were doing they were trying to fake it … self-injury was called trying to gain attention.”

About 10 students attended the forum.

Malek Slama, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore who co-hosted the forum, said he hopes the attendees gained the courage to talk about suicide and mental illness and became aware of the active suicide-prevention community.

“Although there were three suicides in Newton, it doesn’t meant that suicides only happen in Newton,” Slama said. “It means that its happening and we all need to be aware of this issue and this need, this immediate need to raise our voices about it.”

Active Minds Secretary Jade Cooper, a sophomore in CAS, said it is vital that the BU community is mindful of the depression resources available to students and staff.

“It’s really important to talk about it,” Cooper said. “Even though I’m part of Active Minds and know all the resources, I just forget sometimes just how available they are. They’re always there.”

Justyn Huang, a School of Management junior, said as someone who has suffered depression, the forum hit close to home.

“I’m a strong advocate for this because it relates to me so personally,” Huang said. “… I feel like we’re barely scratching the surface of a much larger question. We’re trying to make an impact but we’re making large generalizations because ourselves are not strong enough to get to a deeper truth about what is happening here.”

Katherine Sennott, a CAS sophomore, said she was surprised by how willing people were to discuss suicide.

“I was impressed by how in touch people were with what’s going on, that people were comfortable talking about it,” Sennott said. “I was glad that we had representatives that were from outside BU as well.”

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