The mood was somber as students, faculty, family and friends gathered outside Yosemite Hall last Thursday to remember physics freshman Osvaldo Ponce, who committed suicide two weeks earlier.
Ponce was remembered as a “warm and easygoing person,” who was up front and supportive of others, said Ponce’s childhood friend Ruben Beurga, who spoke at the service.
“I hope that people will remember him for the illuminating effect that he had on so many of our lives on a constant basis,” Baerga said.
Ponce was always there to help a friend in need, but wasn’t able to ask for help when he needed it most, Baerga said.
“He was the kind of person that you could always rely on to be up front with you about any issues or problems you have,” Buerga said.
Baerga, dean of students Jean DeCosta, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics Phil Bailey and head of Counseling Services Bruce Meyer all spoke at the memorial service, led by campus pastor and director of The Front Porch, Beau Smith.
DeCosta said students need to pull together and support each other in the face of tragedy and also reminded students if they ever feel alone, there are resources and people at Cal Poly to help them.
“We are a community of one: We help each other, we support each other, we care for each other,” DeCosta said at the service.
Afterward, as the sun was fading on the chilly Thursday evening, attendees lit candles and held a moment of silence to honor Ponce.
The memorial service was held almost exactly two weeks after Ponce was found in his car with a container of hydrogen sulfide, a gas that can be toxic in confined spaces: Ponce was part of an invisible minority on campus of students who wrestle with suicidal thoughts.
A study conducted by Cal Poly’s counseling services of more than 1,000 students in 2010 indicated that 7 percent of male students and 5 percent of female students report seriously considering attempting suicide according to Meyer, who directs Cal Poly’s on-campus counseling services.
Four percent of respondents screened positive for depression, while 8 percent screened positive for anxiety. Approximately half of respondents reported having their studies adversely affected by mental issues for at least one to five days, Meyer said.
When overwhelmed, students shouldn’t feel that they have to handle everything themselves, Meyer said. The best way to get better is reaching out for help, Meyer said.
“Don’t try to handle everything alone,” Meyer said. “There are a lot of people on campus who are ready and willing to help you.”
Students can also help their friends if they say they’re struggling with depression by being supportive listeners, Meyer said. People should focus on listening first and knowing available resources as well, Meyer said.
“The first thing to do is simply listen and be with them rather than trying to solve everything,” Meyer said.
Students can also help their friends by directing them to the right resources, or walking them over to counseling, Meyer said.
Counseling services welcomes walk-ins from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, or students can visit Peers Understanding Listening Speaking and Educating (PULSE), a peer counseling service for support from fellow students.
PULSE is a good resource for students looking for someone to talk to about stress, drugs or depression and similar problems, said psychology sophomore Ariana Salsido, who volunteers with PULSE’s Thoughtful Lifestyle Choices group.
“(Students) can come to PULSE if they just want someone to talk to,” Salsido said.
In supporting friends dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, students should work to be good listeners and not question their friend’s motives. Salsido said it’s important to “normalize the issue … (and) don’t make it seem like it’s foreign.”
This allows people to be more comfortable in opening up and asking for help, Salsido said.
Students who don’t feel comfortable visiting PULSE or counseling services can also call SLO Hotline at 800-549-4499 or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for someone to talk to.
Video created by Dylan Honea-Baumann