University of Rochester Field Hockey Team Aims to Raise Suicide Awareness

Sept. 10, 2019, 11:07 a.m. (ET)
Content Courtesy of Jim Mandelaro, University of Rochester Communications

Kate Kujawa '20 wears a wristband in memory of her younger brother. Honor Jack. Stop Suicide, it reads.

"That's my Jack that I take with me," said Kujawa, a mechanical engineering major from Milwaukee and a standout goaltender on the University of Rochester field hockey team "I wear it everywhere I go." 

Jack took his life last October 27. He was 18 and had suffered from depression for years. His mother, Patty, made the bracelets and handed them out at his funeral.

Tuesday, September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day, and Kujawa and her teammates will wear special orange wristbands during their 6 p.m. game against SUNY Cortland at Fauver Stadium - to remember all who have taken their lives and highlight the need to raise awareness about suicide. The Yellowjackets also will light candles after the game.

The event organizer is midfielder Amanda Guido '20, a molecular genetics major from Queensbury, N.Y. Her father, Michael Guido, took his life on October 7, 2015 at age 47. A doctor and a former football player at Johns Hopkins University, Michael Guido was an avid skier and golfer who loved coaching his son's youth baseball team. Like Jack Kujawa, he also suffered from depression.

"It's really hard to watch someone you love suffer," said Amanda Guido. "Dad was so stubborn about getting help."

Kujawa's mother will travel from Milwaukee for the game. Guido's mom, Rochelle, will drive in from Queensbury.

"We need to destigmatize mental illness and promote mental health," Patty Kujawa said. "Many mental illnesses reflect chemical imbalances. People like Jack don't choose to be this way, and we as a society need to be more understanding of that. This is not an illness people should be ashamed of, yet society often forces these people to hide in the shadows. It needs to change."

She says another sign of depression is sleeping too much.

"Jack would often say it's like running a race, only he starts a half mile behind everyone else, but has to keep pace with the pack. That's why he'd come home from school and sleep."

Yellowjackets coach Wendy Andreatta says silence is not an option if you sense a loved one is depressed.

"One thing I've learned is, the old-school notion of not talking about it for fear it might encourage thoughts of self-harm is a complete myth," Andreatta said. "The more you can talk about it, the more you can bring it to the surface. People are not more likely to take their own life because you talk about it."

Eric Caine agrees. A professor in the Department of Psychiatry and a co-director at the Medical Center's Center for the Study and Prevention of Suicide, Caine says being proactive is the best gift you can give someone feeling depressed.

"Keep people connected and don't be shy about intruding," he said. "I'd much rather intrude by saying 'How can I help you?' than look back and say 'I saw he or she was having some difficulty, but I didn't do anything. ' "

Around 1,100 college students nationally die each year by suicide, the second leading cause of death among that group, according to the American Association of Suicidology. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 800,000 people die from suicide each year - or one every 40 seconds.

Caine says common red flags in the college setting include a classmate who starts attending class less often, drinks alcohol more than usual, has declining grades, becomes unexpectedly upset or withdraws socially.

"At that point, the idea isn't to say that someone is suicidal, but that something is off. They're not themselves," Caine said. "You want to help those persons, and fortunately, there is plenty of help at the University."

Jack Kujawa and Michael Guido didn't fit the stereotype many have of suicide victims as sullen and withdrawn. Jack loved karaoke, dancing and superhero comics. He had begun training to be a speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness a few weeks before his death, hoping to help those facing the same struggles.

"He was everyone's best friend," Kate said. "Jack wasn't bullied, he didn't come from an unhappy home, and he wasn't an introvert. He just never felt he was enough. He could make everyone else smile, but he couldn't make himself smile."

Michael Guido was "the loudest guy in the room," Amanda said. "He was Mr. Social, with a big laugh and countless friends."

When her father died, one of the midwives he worked with gave Amanda a guardian angel pin. She keeps it in her car. "I like to wear his sweatshirts a lot, too," she said. "Especially his Hopkins football one. Number 54."

Guido hopes Tuesday's game will serve as a reminder that no problem is insurmountable, and all lives are valued.

"There's nothing you're going through that can't be fixed tomorrow or the next day," she said. "You might not be able to fix it on your own, but there's nothing ever worth taking your own life for."

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