H-SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY

Apr 19, 2013 9:39 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Cuesta black flags reflect college suicide rates

Black flags covered Cougar Park Lawn at Cuesta College this week.

Eleven-hundred to be exact. That's the number of college-age individuals who commit suicide every year.

When Brian Istenes looks at these flags, he thinks of one thing.

"Looking at these flags reminds me that at one point I was thinking of joining them," he said.

Each one represents a student who took their own life last year; however, Brian says he had planned his death far before reaching college.

"It started really in fourth and fifth grade, my actual planning for it," said Istenes.

Bullies and social isolation plagued Brian's life, and like many of these flags, he felt his only way out was suicide.

"My main problem was to think people remember you, and that was really my problem," said Istenes. "Because if people remember you, and you commit suicide, you're really not remembered very well."

"Seeing things like this really brings in perspective about how people go through this kind of stuff every single day," said one student looking at the display.

"It's so shocking, you look at this and you're like, wow, so many people died," said another.

Now at Cuesta College, Brian says he's found his place and hopes others like him can do the same.

"A lot of people at this school don't think the suicide rates are as high as they are. They think of them as a very small percentage, and they just don't really grasp the reality which I think the field of flags is able to bring out."

Cuesta College is increasing its commitment to mental health with a two-year, $154,000 grant. It will help pay to train staff that help students with mental health challenges.

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