In an effort to promote awareness of mental health issues, former Rochester Police Sergeant and Reverend Eric Weaver shared his personal struggle with depression with 30 UR students and staff members on Thursday evening in Wilson Commons’ Gowen Room.

The hour-and a half program, titled ‘Beating the Blues: A Personal Journey Through Depression,” took a unique approach to exploring the stigmas and lack of openness surrounding suicide and depression.

‘Suicides are the third leading cause of death, but it doesn’t get talked about a whole lot,” Weaver said. ‘That’s just like a jumbo airliner crashed every other day. Can you imagine not talking about that?”

The talk first focused on why people suffering from a mental illness refuse help embarrassment, hopelessness, denial and the stigmas surrounding the diseases were a few of the key factors mentioned.

‘It’s a puncture that word stigma,” Weaver said.

The former cop showcased a number of examples of these ‘punctures” and other impeding myths that make it difficult for people to have open and candid conversations about issues such as depression and suicide. These included toughness as a deterrent of mental illness and the idea that having a disease like depression meant that you were somehow inferior or lacking in character. Weaver put the most emphasis, however, on how the discussion of depression and suicide is taboo and how that has created an unsupportive attitude toward people suffering from such sicknesses.

‘Mental illness is not a casserole disease,” Weaver said, referring to how other physical illnesses trigger neighbors and friends to bring a grieving family food.

Weaver’s talk was in conjunction with National Depression Screening Day and was sponsored by University Health Services Health Promotion Office, University Counseling Center, Sigma Nu Fraternity, Active Minds, the Psychology Undergraduate Council and Psi Chi Honor Society.

‘It’s one of those topics that is very important,” Associate Director of UHS Health Promotions Linda Dudman said, referring to the role that mental illness plays on a college campus. ‘Students may have depression symptoms, but not be aware of it. We are really trying to reach out to that audience.”

Earlier that day, UCC and UHS sponsored free depression screening in the first floor of Wilson Commons, where UR students got the opportunity to ‘test their mood” and talk with a UCC professional.

The program was a huge success compared to past years over 120 students were screened on Thursday compared to just 18 last year.

‘It was a very excellent collaboration between [all of the sponsors],” Dudman said. ‘That allowed it to be a really great day overall.”

Dudman attributed a large amount of the program’s success to the collaborative ability to really reach out to its audience and educate it about the symptoms and dangers of depression.

Weaver also emphasized awareness as a means for overcoming the stigmas of mental illnesses, as well as other methods, including advocating for yourself or others who have these diseases as well as not promoting these stigmas.

Currently, Weaver serves as a reverend at Crosswinds Wesleyan Church in Canandaigua, N.Y., although he introduced himself as someone who ‘basically wore a badge and gun since my 20th birthday.” The retired cop’s experience with mental health issues stemmed from years of working on the Rochester Police Department’s Emotionally Disturbed Persons Response Team and, to a greater extent, his own struggles with mental illness.
‘I speak from a very personal standpoint,” Weaver said. ‘I toughed out life for 30 some years until I told my wife I didn’t want to live anymore.”

It has been over 10 years since that day. Since then, Weaver has persevered and received help, all the while dedicating himself to raising awareness of mental health issues so as to break down the barriers that inhibit open discussion of these illnesses.

The cop recounted one conversation he had with his former boss in particular as a good example of why he has committed himself to educating people on these diseases. It was right after Weaver returned from an extended leave, where he had been in and out of the hospital for depression. His coworkers had been told he was recovering from a back injury, and Weaver was about to tell them the real reason he had been out when his boss asked him, ‘But Eric, what will people say?”

‘Captain, that’s the problem,” Weaver had responded. ‘People are willing to throw away lives for suicide because of what people will say.”

Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.

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