By Daniela Doncel

STORRS – The University of Connecticut Counseling and Mental Health Services began Suicide Prevention Week with its first ever Forest Bathing event partnered with the Asian American Cultural Center this past Sunday afternoon.

According to Holly Zhen, one of the event organizers, forest bathing is a Japanese practice of going into the forest for relaxation.

“To me, forest bathing is the practice of going into the woods or forest and just letting that natural setting relax you and let it become a meditative space for you,” Zhen says.

Amanda Waters, an event organizer from the Asian American Cultural Center, says it also has many health benefits.

“It lowers cortisol levels and it has a lots of different physical health benefits that we can actually measure which is cool, and the fact that we have a forest right here on UConn’s campus is amazing, and it’s a cool part of Suicide Prevention Week which I’m excited about,” Waters says.

Students follow forest guide Professor Thomas Worthley down a trail in UConn Forest. Photo: Daniela Doncel

About 30 students participated in the event which consisted of a hike through a trail and a guided meditation session.

“Take a couple of deep breaths. Notice how your body feels and notice what’s going on in your mind. Just be present with whatever’s going on,” Waters says.

Professor Thomas Worthley of UConn’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment guides the group through the forest, occasionally stopping to comment on forest life.

Worthley works for UConn Forest, an area of 2,100 acres of woodland owned by UConn that holds multiple trails and areas for research.

“What I hope that you get a chance to do today is [to] pause and listen to some of the sounds, reach out and touch things you don’t get a chance to touch every day,” Worthley says.

Students listen to Amanda Waters as she guides them through a meditation session. Photo: Daniela Doncel

Matthew Wan, a freshman MCB (Molecular and Cell Biology) major, says he was curious about the event.

“I don’t know if it’s any different from just a walk in the woods, but, you know, I’m here with my friends so that’s going to be nice,” Wan says.

Alex Houdeshell, a freshman English major, says she thought the event went well.

“There was a little more hiking than I thought there was going to be, but I really liked the meditation part. That part was just really relaxing,” Houdeshell says.

UConn Forest Bathing is part of a week-long campaign called Suicide Prevention Week that is meant to raise awareness around suicide among college students, according to Erin Cox, Director of CMHS (Counseling & Mental Health Services) Outreach Services.

“A lot of our purpose is around the idea of connecting students to this larger community. When people feel connected to their community, to the natural world around them, they’re less likely to feel that kind of distress. We’re also more likely to recognize if somebody’s struggling when we’re feeling connected,” Cox says.

According to Cox, about 1100 college students die by suicide every year nationally.

From left to right: Erin Cox, Holly Zen, and Amanda Waters. They are handing out free Suicide Prevention Week t-shirts to the event participants. Photo: Daniela Doncel

Cox also says suicide prevention week is a part of September as National Suicide Prevention Month.

“Why do we do more than just one single day of events? Well, because, they have more of an impact, right? The more events that we’re doing, the more opportunities we have to reach students, to reach different communities on campus, and to raise awareness,” Cox says.

Alexandra Garcia attended UConn Forest Bathing as a sisterhood event with her sorority of Kappa Phi Lambda. She says it’s important for UConn to host these kinds of events.

“It’s really important for our university to advertise self-care and to remind students that you should take care of yourself first before anything and to remind them that there’s always people around to listen to them and be with them in times of need,” Garcia says.

“Just let it be an experience without meaning and without reference to any other experience. Just allow yourself to be. Focus on your breath and this present moment,” Waters says.

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