After battling depression in high school, sophomore Rachel Stolzer said her mental health had been improving until a week ago.
While sitting in class this past Tuesday, Stolzer received a text from an old friend reading, “Did you hear about Derek?”
A friend of Stolzer’s, who she called Derek to protect his privacy, had taken his life.
Stolzer was one of four students to share their stories and experiences with mental illness at the Student Government Board’s Candlelight Vigil Thursday night. The vigil, which the Board held as a part of Mental Health Awareness Week, was meant to provide a space for students to share personal experiences with mental illness and to encourage students to ask for help.
“You don’t have to be happy to be happy that you’re alive,” Madison Shaftic, a junior psychology major, said to a crowd of about 50 people holding candles illuminating the patio of the William Pitt Union building.
Surrounded by the glow of supportive light, Stolzer, an undecided sophomore, told the story of her own struggle with anxiety and depression.
“I’m not okay, I just lost a great friend, but I want to make his life mean something more,” Stolzer said.
Stolzer said she began to self-harm at 14 years old. A troubled relationship only added to the severity of her condition. After a particularly intense fight with her partner, she was left feeling suicidal and tried to take her own life.
“I immediately regretted it and told my mother,” Stolzer said.
With her mother’s support, Stolzer was able to get help and focus on herself. She began doing yoga and got accepted to Pitt, which she referred to as “the school of [her] dreams.”
After hearing about Derek, Stolzer called her mother in a fit of sobs. Stolzer said her mom feared she might relapse into her depression, but the sophomore said her friend’s life would motivate her to keep going.
Although Stolzer saw mental illness herself and through her friends, Joslyn Wilburn, a senior communications major, saw the effects of mental illness in her family.
She told the crowd about the strained relationship she had with her mother, who suffered from mental illness. The crowd grew silent as Wilber told them that her mother died from cancer.
After she regained composure, Wilburn said she regrets distancing herself from her mother.
“I’m mad at myself that I had so much pride,” Wilburn said.
She finished her story with an emphasis on the importance of being supportive of those who are struggling.
“Everyone distanced themselves from her, even me, her own daughter … the moral of the story is don’t push any of your loved ones away,” Wilburn said.
After all the students had shared, Pittch Please sang an a cappella version of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” During the song, tears filled the eyes of many in the crowd as onlookers stared at the ground.
Students shared hugs and tears after the event as the crowd dispersed. Many members of the crowd stayed to compliment the speakers on their bravery, including Jessica Scovern, a junior psychology major.
“I liked people sharing their stories in an atmosphere of acceptance and that they knew it was safe to talk,” Scovern said.