After battling severe depression for years and losing four people in her life to suicide, Ashley Hansen is taking her message of suicide awareness to Dixie State University.
Hansen, a junior biology major from Ogden, is running for Miss Dixie this year with suicide awareness as her platform. She is also organizing a team from DSU for the St. George Out of the Darkness Walk Sept. 30, which is a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Hansen said no matter how happy someone may seem on the outside, they could still be fighting mental illness or suicidal thoughts.
“You just never know who is struggling,” Hansen said. “Part of the reason I chose to do Miss Dixie was to show everyone that everyday people—people who get up on stage and wear an evening gown and swimsuit—can also be struggling with anxiety or depression.”
Hansen said there were several times when her depression became so intense, she considered suicide.
“I may have planned (suicide), but I never fully attempted,” Hansen said.
Hansen said it took prescribed medication, therapy and support from her family and friends to eventually cope with her mental illness and suicidal thoughts. Talking about her struggles and becoming an advocate for suicidal awareness also helped, she said.
Dylan Matsumori, a licensed psychiatrist and director of the DSU Health and Counseling Center, said intelligent people will always consider death as an option to escape depression or anxiety. That doesn’t mean they will kill themselves, Matsumori said.
“Suicidal thoughts are not a good predictor of suicidal intention,” Matsumori said. “If someone has those coping mechanisms, they are able to move past [suicidal thoughts]. If the coping mechanisms aren’t there…then they need to come talk to someone like myself or a therapist.”
Matsumori said behaviors common in those who may be seriously considering suicide include saying goodbye to loved ones, giving away prized possessions, isolation, and general sadness.
“These signs and symptoms are hard to read,” Matsumori said. “Hindsight is 20/20. You can see them after the fact when it’s too late.”
The best way someone can help another person who may be struggling with mental illness is just to talk, Matsumori said.
“You can’t save them, but if you want to be helpful, just have that conversation with them,” Matsumori said. “When you have these people who are highly suicidal, they have this sense that there is nobody there, and they are trapped. Just reach out to people.”
Students can visit the DSU Health and Counseling Center if they are struggling with mental illness or suicidal tendencies. A visit with a therapist at the Health and Counseling Center, located at 1035 E. 100 S., costs $10 for students. A visit with another therapist in St. George may cost $100, Matsumori said.
He said the first thing people should do if they are scared they may commit suicide or if someone they know may commit suicide is to get them safe. Instead of talking about it or going to a therapist, they should immediately call the police. DSU campus police will freely transport a student to the hospital if that student is having suicidal tendencies, Matsumori said.
“(The Health and Counseling Center) is not a crisis center,” Matsumori said. “If you really think you are going to kill yourself, go to the hospital.”
The DSU Hope Squad, whose aim is to help prevent suicide among students at DSU, is also starting up again this September, said Student Body President Ezra Hainsworth, a senior communication major from St. George. Hainsworth said the Hope Squad will comprise of students who will be trained with helping their peers dealing with suicidal tendencies.
“Most students will feel more comfortable talking with a peer versus an advisor,” Hainsworth said.
Hainsworth said it’s important to have the dialogue of suicidal awareness open at DSU because college can be stressful and isolating for many students.
“It sounds cliche, but it get’s better,” Hansen said. “Committing suicide wouldn’t solve anything. It would pass the grief off to someone else. It would pass it off to your family; it would pass it off to your friends.”