Depression and suicide are topics junior business major Victor Ngo is very familiar with. Having worked in student life for three years, Ngo described these as common feelings among new students who are faced with the financial and emotional stressors that accompany college.
“When I came to Portland and worked with housing, I noticed that a lot of students were coming to me with the things they were dealing with,” Ngo said. “When I was a freshman, somebody in the dorms [hanged] himself. The year after, almost the same thing happened—someone jumped. It’s something that’s definitely real and there.”
It is incidents like these that the Center for Student Health and Counseling’s Suicide Prevention program strives to minimize and inform people about. For this reason, on Oct. 11 SHAC will hold a free show titled The Gospel According to Josh, in which Josh Rivedal, a New York actor and playwright, will perform a one-man show inspired by his life experiences.
The show is “centered around a small-town Jersey boy, as he follows his dreams to Hollywood despite the great obstacle of his life: the tempestuous relationship with his pious father…ending with a final showdown between him and his father,” according to press material. Afterward, Rivedal will give a keynote speech about suicide and depression awareness.
Rivedal worked on this piece for three and a half months. The title comes from the symbolism of him “becoming a man at the age of 28,” Rivedal said. After a rough breakup and the death of his own father nearly drove him to take his own life, Rivedal felt the urge to write it all down.
“There was a point in my life where I hit rock bottom, and I nearly made a suicide attempt after my own father and my own grandfather did it,” he said. “I was really depressed and upset. My mother came back and helped save me. From there, when I was coming out of the depression, I decided to take the show to schools and help people who are going through the same pains.”
Carla Riedlinger, coordinator for crisis services and suicide prevention activities at PSU, put the event together. Having worked for seven years with the Suicide Prevention program, Riedlinger said that the event is all about informing people of the resources available for those struggling with depression and suicide.
“What we’re doing is just trying to get as much information out there as possible about risk factors and warnings about suicide—especially to students, because students talk to students,” Riedlinger said. “All the research tells us that they’re talking to their peers. People who are most at risk for suicide don’t usually ask for help, so if people are more aware, they’d know to get them to the help that they need.”
Rivedal agrees that seeking help and becoming informed has not only helped save his life but is helping him save the lives of others. The purpose of his work, he explained, is to pass on a joyful message in times of desperation.
“Even though this isn’t a religious piece at all, the gospel means good news and I’ve got good news,” Rivedal said. “The good news is that you can do whatever you want with yourself in the face of adversity. You can get knocked down seven times and get up eight. You are in charge. The good news is suicide is preventable. You’re in control of your life. You can do whatever the hell you want, and as soon as I bought into that idea, my life took off.”
SHAC has established many resources for students seeking help through the Suicide Prevention program. The on-call system at the center, for example, allows students to walk in and seek help without an appointment. Riedlinger urges people who need help to seek it if they are having suicidal thoughts.
“There’s so much stigma around it, so it’s hard for people who have suicidal ideas to not have shame. It’s hard for people to talk about it because they feel ashamed about it,” Riedlinger said. “That stigma that has existed forever around suicide is one of the things that we’re trying to break through enough for people to want to get help.”
Rivedal hopes that his performance and keynote will help audience members become more comfortable talking about suicide in a casual setting.
“They’re going to have fun, they’re going to laugh and they’re going to cry, but best of all, they’re going to be better than when they came in,” he said. “It’s a cool and an accessible way to talk about suicide prevention. It’s not how the cast of One Tree Hill talks about bullying, it’s not anything like that; it’s real. It’s a guy in a plaid shirt talking about it.”