When she was in sixth grade, Katherine Boeckmann said she began having anxiety symptoms.
The panic attacks started a year and a half ago, she said, during her first two years at California State University, Long Beach. The 25-year-old is doing well now, she said, thanks to the school’s suicide prevention program — Project OCEAN (On-Campus Emergency Assistance Network). The program recently had its Light the Night with Hope event, which included lighting candles to support someone with mental illness.
But she said she never thought she’d make it this far.
“I was having six panic attacks a day and couldn’t get out of bed without having one,” Boeckmann said. “I couldn’t drive or sit through an entire class session. I was ready to drop out because I had lost all hope. The day I decided I wanted to drop out I spoke with my counselor on campus and she reminded me that I didn’t try everything yet.”
Prior to that, she said she noticed Project OCEAN on campus, promoting mental health awareness through social media.
She asked her campus therapist about the project and attended its Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR) suicide prevention training. The training certifies people for three years to talk others out of suicide.
“I was hooked on Project OCEAN,” Boeckmann said. “I longed for an organization like this since I was in middle school, wishing there was something or someone who understood that mental health is just as important as physical health.”
Boeckmann was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, she said. To manage her issue, she said she takes Paxil and goes to a therapist and psychiatrist. She had gone to therapy on and off through the years, she said, but it never really helped.
Additionally, she’s studying sociology with a concentration in interaction and group relations.
“She (counselor) gave me hope when I wanted to give up and that is why I am still here today getting my degree with a 3.7 grade point average, still fighting the fight,” Boeckmann said.
Not just fighting for herself, Boeckmann began working with Project OCEAN and Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) during fall semester, after volunteering during the 2015-2016 school year. It’s a stigma-free, understanding and supportive environment, she said.
“I am here to pay it forward to the CSULB community and be the person I always needed when I was younger,” she said. “Helping others has helped me realize that there is hope and that there is hope and that hope can save lives. It also has shown me that I am not alone. So many people are affected by mental health issues… It brings me so much joy to see students receiving the help they need that I once needed.”
She said she talks to 20 or 30 students per week, as well as at events.
“They’re hesitant to come to counseling,” Boeckmann said. “It opens up the discussion… A lot of people feel like they can’t talk about certain things.”
The events provide resources and information, such as Send Silence Packing’s traveling exhibition of 1,100 donated backpacks, representing the number of college students lost to suicide each year.
“A lot of people who would’ve just walked out to their car, stopped by,” Boeckmann said. “One told me, ‘My friend just texted me and told me he was going to kill himself.’”
For more information, visit web.csulb.edu/divisions/students/caps/programs_workshops/ocean.
Emily Thornton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.