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President Campo Addresses Suicide Awareness

By Amanda Morad | January 17, 2013

The panel discussing suicide prevention. L-R: Daniel Diaz, Dr. Merrill Reese, Samantha Blackwell

Rather than Scripture, it was a pop song that Regent University president, Dr. Carlos Campo opened with at President's Chapel on Wednesday, Jan. 16. "You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness, like resignation to the end, always the end," he quoted from Gotye's (feat. Kimbra) "Somebody That I Used to Know."

The sadness mentioned in the lyric is that of depression, President Campo explained, and the outcome is all too often suicide. Each academic year, the Office of the President adopts a health or social cause and launches a campaign for awareness and prevention of that cause. "We don't want this to be just a standard suicide prevention campaign," he told chapelgoers. "It's the transformative power of Christ we need to be listening to on this and every issue."

For 2012-2013, the president's choice of cause was made simple by the sudden death of undergraduate student Elizabeth Blackwell in May. Blackwell's mother, Samantha joined a panel discussing the prevention of suicide during the chapel service.

Preceding the panel, President Campo helped put things in perspective with statistics related to trends in suicide. The Virginian Pilot recently published information that said suicide rates across the board have tripled over a generation, now the third leading cause of death for young people age 15-24.

"This despair and seeming hopelessness is spreading across a generation," President Campo said. "The question modern philosophy is asking is not 'how shall we live?' but 'shall we live at all?'"

Even classic literature illustrates this point, and several Regent students helped do that through the recitation of several key pieces dealing with the subject. From Shakespeare to Keats, death has always been one of literature's most explored themes, President Campo explained.

But where much literature stops is at the point of desperation. The three panelists featured during the service all shared encouragement with the audience that depression doesn't have to have the last word. In addition to Mrs. Blackwell, School of Divinity student Daniel Diaz and School of Psychology & Counseling assistant professor Dr. Merrill Reese also shared about the prevention of suicide.

"I spent seven years as an atheist," Diaz shared. "During that time, I struggled with why I should live." He came close to taking his own life at one point, but became a Christian soon after. "Because of society and troubles and science, it's easy to doubt," he explained. "Many Christians doubt. It's time we start talking about it because Christianity is community."

Community is what Blackwell said her daughter was missing toward the end of her life. "She began giving away things, withdrawing from her friends," she said. "There were many factors that led to her decision; a lot of stressors, an inability to cope. In the end, she grew tired of the pain."

Blackwell shares her daughter's story to encourage students to watch closely for signs of depression in their friends, to seek help if they struggle with thoughts of suicide, and to encourage conversation about depression and suicide among Christians.

She shares this goal with Reese, who reported that there are more than 1 million suicides worldwide each year. "The link between depression and suicide is overwhelming," he said, and friends and family often hold the key to prevention for those at risk.

"Ask questions: are they struggling? Are they contemplating? Many feel it's their only way," Reese said. "It's not your tips and therapies people will remember; it's your presence. Be the loving presence of Christ for one another."

President Campo concluded the service reassuring students, staff and faculty of Regent's commitment to help those struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide. "We are part of a loving Christian community and we will come alongside you to get the support you need," he said. "We want to encourage these conversations. This is a safe place."

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