On Thursday, a group called the Hamlett-Reed Mental Health Initiative sponsored a silent march for National Suicide Awareness Day to honor Penn students who have died by suicide. The march culminated in the delivery of an open letter to the office of Penn President Amy Gutmann, urging the administration to take more decisive action in protection of student mental health.
The letter is signed by Katherine Hamlett, the mother of Timothy Hamlett, and Linda Douglas, the mother of Theodric Reed. Hamlett and Reed are among seven Penn students who committed suicide within the last two years.
Though Hamlett remains supportive of the University as a whole, she said she signed the letter in order to encourage the administration to more seriously address the issue that took her son's life.
"I suspect that the initiative will allow for further conversations and develop resources so that students there can really take advantage of mental health resources that are going to be meaningful for them," she said. "My goal in participating and being a signatory is really to bring as much light to the issue as possible so that no other family has to go through this."
The letter condemns the progress of the Task Force for Psychological Health and Wellness — the administration's response to student deaths — arguing that the administration's "Band-Aid solutions" have not led to substantial change.
It goes on to name six specific proposals: designated Counseling and Psychological Services therapists for incoming students, anonymity for counseling visits, online CAPS scheduling, proactive and regular CAPS communication with students, a focus on student groups particularly prone to stress and emphasis on CAPS during New Student Orientation. The proposals each include a deadline, ranging from Nov. 1, 2015 to NSO 2016.
Other notable signatories include student leaders from mental health advocacy groups, student government, Greek life and minority councils, among others.
College senior and Class of 2016 President Jesus Perez said he signed the letter in order to fight the negative stigma of mental health and bring attention to the issue as a whole.
"Timothy was a member of our class," Perez said in an email. "Too often we think that depression and suicide are things we can't talk about. I personally believe our community should stand together to de-stigmatize the conversation. With this, we bring attention to the prevalent mental health issues we all experience from time to time."
Wharton senior and SOUL Recruitment Chair Jamal Taylor, another signatory, echoed the open letter's sentiments, saying that the administration has "addressed the issue by putting band-aids over it."
Taylor added that his position as a student leader allows him to act more effectively as a voice for change.
"If organizations have their leaders advoctaing for an issue, that shows that it's something that needs to be addressed," he said.
Students attending the march carried signs with the names and ages of suicide victims. Members of the group maintained silence and solemnity as they marched to the doors of College Hall, drawing attention from passersby as they made their way through campus.
Protesters ranged in their reasons for joining the march, but the movement as a whole aims to put mental health at the forefront of discussion at Penn.
“I think mental health is a really important issue,” said College sophomore Conrad Mascarenhas, who attended the march and held a sign bearing Madison Holleran’s name. “This was a really good way to draw attention to that in a public way.”
College sophomore Ilan Gold, another student who participated, believes that the march is only the beginning to a much larger movement.
“This should really only be a start,” he said. “There is a larger root cause that needs to be addressed.”
Although President Gutmann was in China at the time of the letter's delivery, the Hamlett-Reed Mental Health Initiative requests a meeting with her within the next two weeks.
Read and sign the letter here.
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