UNC Cancels Classes for ‘Wellness Day’ After 2 Student Suicides

UNC chancellor urged students and staff to take the day to rest and check in with each other following two suicides and an attempted suicide.

UNC Cancels Classes for ‘Wellness Day’ After 2 Student Suicides

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill canceled classes Tuesday to observe a “Wellness Day” following two student suicides and an attempted suicide in the last month.

In an announcement Sunday, which was World Mental Health Day, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz encouraged the campus community to use the day to focus on mental health.

“[W]e are aware that college-aged students carry an increased risk of suicide. This crisis has directly impacted members of our community – especially with the passing of two students on campus in the past month,” he wrote in his message. “I encourage every student to use this time to rest and to check in with each other during that day. Reach out to a friend, a classmate, or colleague and ask them, ‘honestly, how are you doing?'”

On Sept. 4, the UNC Police Department reported a suicide at the school’s Forest Theater. On Saturday, campus police responded to a suicide at the Hinton James Residence Hall. The next day, they responded to another for an attempted suicide at the Granville Towers South.

Guskiewicz said the university is compiling various resources to offer throughout the week to students who want more information or a place to process their experiences. The school is also planning a mental health summit for later this month.

Additionally, in the coming weeks, the university is launching the Heels Care Network, a campus-wide mental health awareness campaign, which includes a reporting system where people can share information about someone they think may need help.

However, some students think the university could be doing more.

“I think they are trying but it kind of seems like a bare minimum response to me,” sophomore Annalise Zola told ABC 7. “I think the response was a little delayed in that they could be funding CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) better and doing more to support our students.”

On average, students and staff who contact CAPS have to wait a week before speaking with a live person. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Amy Johnson said there have been no budget cuts to the program and that wait times are due to staff turnover.

“Three weeks is like an eternity when you’re dealing with mental health issues. You need to talk to someone immediately,” said Deb Aikat, a journalism professor at UNC. “It’s stressful for all of us. And for a younger mind it’s even more stressful and they are trying to handle it all alone. They are away from home. They have their friends. But if their friends are in a bad situation also; all of them suffer. And they have to also suffer in silence.”

In 2019, suicide was the second-leading cause of death among people ages 10-34, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health.

If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional information. 

About the Author

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Amy is Campus Safety’s Senior Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy’s mother, brother, sister-in-law, and a handful of cousins are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

In her free time, Amy enjoys exploring the outdoors with her husband, her 2 children and her dog.

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