Briana Locicero recalled a time during her life as an undergraduate at Stony Brook University when she felt hopeless and alone. That is what inspired her to join CHILL, a group on campus that supports mental health and wellness peer education.
“It helped me to help others who were facing what I had been facing at one time,” she said.
Locicero, a medical school student and Student Health Advisory Committee representative, was among several speakers who spoke candidly about suicide and mental health during the sixth annual Vigil of Hope, a program held on Thursday night in the Sidney Gelber Auditorium that was attended by about 60 students.
The event, which started with a candlelight vigil in honor of suicide victims, was sponsored by various clubs and organizations, including the Student Health Advisory Committee, Active Minds and the Undergraduate Social Welfare Alliance. The program also included musical performances from the High C’s a capella group and Music & Medicine, and provided information about on-campus resources for those struggling with feelings of depression or hopelessness.
The evening’s speakers presented different viewpoints on mental health, but all underscored the importance of reaching out for support to combat feelings of loneliness and desperation.
Locicero shared a story about how she was able to help a visibly distressed student. Seeing a boy hysterically sobbing in the Student Activities Center one day, Locicero decided to stop and talk to him. After listening to his story, she helped console him and provided him with information about helpful resources on campus.
“It was just this amazing feeling that I really wanted to spread,” she said. This incident is what inspired her to start CHILLfriends, a project with the goal of inspiring Stony Brook students to reach out to others who may need a companion or just someone to talk to.
Another speaker, Julian Pessier, Ph.D., interim director of Counseling and Psychological Services, admitted that he too had a tendency to struggle with hopelessness, but that it is something he continues to work on every day.
Pessier highlighted some of the new mental health services available to students, including animal assisted therapy, mindfulness meditation therapy and CAPS After Hours, a 24-hour support hotline for those struggling with depressive or suicidal thoughts.
The final speaker, poet, author and 2014 Stony Brook graduate Steven Licardi, said although he had struggled with suicidal thoughts at one point, he was fortunate enough to receive the help he needed because he took the first step and reached out to someone. He urged the audience to reach out to those who may be feeling depressed.
“You have that power as well to help somebody,” Licardi said, “to realize that this moment right here is a gift even though it can be hard to see that sometimes.”
The evening had some touching moments, including a spoken word performance led by Licardi that answered the question: “What if we looked like what we’ve been through?”
The performance touched on the importance of empathy, acknowledging that even though all people face hardships, people can learn to overcome feelings of depression through human connection.
“I’m more than what I’ve been through, I’m infinitely stronger,” Licardi said.
Another moving moment was a ceremony at the start of the program in which members of the audience each came up to the stage to light a candle, followed by Active Minds president Emilia Leon reading an Emily Dickinson poem titled “If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking.”
Among the organizations represented at the event were Theta Phi Alpha sorority, Pi Lambda Phi fraternity, Circle K International, the High C’s, the Long Island Water Environment Association, the National Society of Professional Engineers, Psi Chi Society, Sigma Beta Rho Fraternity, Diversity Peer Educators, Sigma Beta Honor Society, the Psychology Student Alliance and the Tobacco Action Coalition.
“This night was all about connecting people he need help with the right resources,” psychology major Joe Verderber, one of the evening’s hosts, said. “I think that’s exactly what we accomplished.”