LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) - The University of Louisville and Clemson University may be fighting it out on the field Saturday, but they're coming together for a far greater cause.
Suicide is one of the leading killers of college students in the country. It's a troubling statistic the two schools are working to change this weekend.
Saturday will cap off National Suicide Prevention Week, and it will end with a message everyone can see. On the JumboTron hundreds of feet in the air, before thousands of eyes, there will be words of hope during halftime.
A minute-long PSA will run during the show. It’s a collaboration between the suicide prevention programs at both UofL and Clemson. Both schools received grants for their programs and started working on this project a while back.
Suicide can be a tough topic to tackle.
"A lot of people don't feel comfortable or equipped to start a difficult conversation like this. It definitely is difficult. We don't deny that,” Clemson University Associate Director for Alcohol and Other Drug Initiatives Crystal Fulmer said.
The stigma of suicide can often stop those conversations before they can even begin.
"It can make you feel really alone and really isolated,” Clemson University Assistant Director for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Initiatives Kristi Bussell said.
A national survey shows close to ten percent of college students have contemplated suicide.
"With that, that means there are nine other students that are around them that can support them, lift them up, and share resources and get them to safety,” Cards SPEAK Coordinator Tracie Meyer said.
They are all students both groups hope to empower with Saturday's halftime message.
"It's spreading awareness, but it's also getting that conversation started. Even if people only watch the PSA for a few minutes, maybe they can start a conversation about suicide and suicide awareness. For some people, that's all it really takes,” Tigers Together student member Chastyn Webster said.
“It’s really great that we can take the opportunity to decrease the stigma and to help people find the resources that they need to get help and get better,” Bussell said. “It can make you feel really alone and really isolated. So, in that sea of people, I would guess that there are people who are struggling with suicide or suicide ideation. I think it’s just really important for them to remember that even if they’re amidst a sea of people that they’re not alone in struggling with this.”
The PSA will end by giving out two resource numbers for the suicide prevention and crisis lifelines. By pairing this often serious subject with something so fun, both schools think they can reach a different, but essential audience.
“My hope is that this message when received and associated with a fun time, a fun event, they’re going to associate having this conversation as something more normal,” Meyer said. “So, we make it the norm to have this conversation rather than the taboo or the stigmatized don’t talk about conversation. They’ll take that message. They’ll put the suicide lifeline number in their phone or the text number in their phone so that if they’re ever faced with dealing with a crisis with a loved one or themselves, they’ll have it right there easy to reach.”
“I think it’s great to have an opportunity to reach a different audience with those who are going to be viewing the football game, which kind of represents a wide variety of people and also helps empower people to know how to reach out to someone who they may know themselves who is struggling,” Fulmer said. “I think with a little bit of training and education, most people can be willing to step in and begin a hard conversation just to help and just to let somebody know that they care about them.”.
"Everyone gets together. Everyone is excited for the game. I'm really grateful that this cause can also make an appearance at a time like that,” UofL student Michelle Jones said.
Jones lost her brother to suicide last year and has since made it her mission to help others. She and her family started The Pete Foundation in honor of their late son and brother. It works to raise awareness and give people an outlet to get the help they need.
“I think that after something so tragic, you have so much emotion and energy, and I feel really lucky that I was able to put it towards something positive despite the fact that it came from something so sad,” Jones said.
She said projects like the halftime video make her feel even more empowered to continue helping others.
“I see more and more people getting in to this issue and have a lot of passion. It is an issue that really resonates with a lot of people, especially on college campuses. I think it’s really important to get that age of people in that environment comfortable with talking about their emotional well-being,” Jones said. “I’m really excited. I’m really grateful that a cause like this that is so important can be there and reach that many people. I think what we need to recognize is that the only way we can get through things like this and really make a breakthrough is just to be together as a community, as one.”