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Unusual Display Shows Students Lost to Suicide

posted on Tuesday, September 6, 2016 in  College News

WATERLOO, Iowa (KCRG-TV9)—Suicide ranks as one of the top ten leading causes of death for all ages. And this week is National Suicide Prevention Week.

Signs and shoes. 1,100 pairs of old shoes line the sidewalks at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo. Each pair represents a student life lost to suicide. The campus is participating in National Suicide Prevention Week through Thursday.

But one group that might get overlooked when talking about warning signs or suicide prevention is students. Statistics show 1,100 students choose to end their lives in a typical year. And suicide is the second leading cause of death for those ages 15-34.

Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo is participating in the National Suicide Prevention Week program this week with a message that students there will find hard to miss.

It all comes down to shoes—1,100 of them lined along the sidewalks of the central campus courtyard. That’s one pair to represent every student life lost to suicide in a typical year.

For some at the community college, it was a painful reminder of personal loss. Many, like student Gustav Herman, either knew someone who committed suicide or knew someone who tried.

“I didn’t really expected it. I thought they were really happy but it’s impossible to know,” Herman said.

The Hawkeye display has stories to go along with all the shoes. Picture posters show photos of some of the students who took their own lives with some of the details. While many faces and names are students those on the Waterloo campus wouldn’t know, at least two displays remember nearby University of Northern Iowa students who killed themselves.

Caitlyn Pixler, a mental health therapist with the college, said the point wasn’t just to graphically remind the campus of loss with all the pairs of shoes lined up. Rather, it was to encourage those fighting depression or other mental health issues to get help.

“I think it’s important to get the message out and to help students realize how big of an issue and how prominent it is for sure,” Pixler said.

And campus organizers say if this unusual display, that will stay on campus through Thursday, encourages just one student having difficulties to seek proper help in time, then it’s all worth it.