NAMI at Sac State holds town hall on suicide prevention

Event part of Suicide Prevention Month


Anthony Shorter

Keynote speaker Kevin Berthia explained his story dealing with depression and a suicide attempt in 2005. He spoke at Sac State’s Suicide Prevention town hall on Thursday.

Chris Wong

The National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI, at Sacramento State hosted the Pathways to a Healthy Mind Suicide Prevention Town Hall Thursday evening in the University Union. 

The keynote speaker was Kevin Berthia, who attempted suicide in 2005. President Robert Nelsen was the introductory speaker. Nelsen’s son died by suicide in 2001.

The panel was organized by Sac State’s NAMI on Campus, the organization’s student-led club.

The panelists included NAMI on Campus faculty advisor Katelyn Sandoval, Sac State alumnus and previous NAMI on Campus president Regina Bryan, social work faculty member Bridgette Dean, associate marriage and family therapist Arden Tucker and professional speaker and author Stephanie Chandler. Chandler’s husband died by suicide.

The town hall also connected attendees with resources in the area for people struggling with mental health, including counselors on campus at the Student Health and Counseling Service Center in the WELL.

NAMI on Campus President Naveet Sandhu, a biology major with a concentration in medical sciences, also said that there are support groups on campus for interested students.

“I’ve personally done a few of the support groups and they’ve been really helpful,” Sandhu said.

Sandhu began the event by introducing herself and, as she began to cry, explained the importance of the event.

“I didn’t think I was gonna get emotional, and I can still feel it happening now,” Sandhu said after the event.She attributed her tears to her own struggle and seeing others struggle with mental health. 

Suicide is the second most common cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, according to the National Institute of Mental Health

“Everyone has heard of someone that has died by suicide,” Sandhu said.

That extends to Nelsen. Nelsen said that his son’s death was not expected and that he had appeared to have overcome his earlier struggles with mental health. 

Nelsen said that one of his goals as president is to make Sac State a more caring university. Part of that goal is ending the stigma of mental illness.The panel discussed said stigma surrounding mental health. 

Specifically, the panel discussed the stigma surrounding dropping out for the sake of mental health. They agreed that “taking a break” is a more preferable term than “dropping out.”

“I always tell my students, ‘Sometimes we all just need a breather, and it’s just the way it’s gotta be,’ and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Dean said. In addition to teaching social work, Dean also serves as the Sacramento Police Department Social Services Administrator.

For students who want to avoid the isolation that can follow taking a break from school, but need to address their mental health, Sandoval suggested taking a light semester of just one or two classes.

As a counselor for Sac State’s Student Health and Counseling Center, Sandoval added that doing so allows students to continue seeing counselors at school.

The event concluded with Berthia’s keynote speech. 

His adoptive parents’ divorce and negative middle and high school environments growing up in Oakland contributed to his depression.

Berthia said that he managed to suppress his depression in college.

“Maybe I never need to identify what’s really wrong with me, maybe I never need to get help,” Berthia said. “I mean, I’m fully functional, nobody really knows.” 

Sandhu said that Sac State needs to work on reaching out to students. 

“Every time I go out to the table, I at least have one person saying, ‘Oh wow, I did not know this existed,’” Sandhu said. NAMI on Campus currently has around a dozen members, according to Sandhu. Though she is happy with the turnout, she wishes more students came to the event.

Peer health educator and senior psychology major Nathan Thephavongsa recognizes that more can be done, but thinks Sac State is doing well addressing students’ mental wellness.

“Sac State is really pushing out that normalization on mental health, so they’re really trying to normalize that conversation,” Thephavongsa said. 

He explained that organizations on campus have taken a strong stance on mental wellness through resources like peer health educators.

Bryan said that when facing depression, reaching out is difficult because “you already feel like you’re drowning.” She said responsibility falls on loved ones to monitor mental health.

“Don’t be a bystander,” she said. “Check in.”

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-TALK or 1 (800) 273-8255.

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