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After losing her best friend, she wants to help others with mental illness

It’s a difficult task for Anyssa Molina to understand why her best friend did what she did.

Fresno State student Ana Alcantar, 21, died on Jan. 17. A spokesman from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office said her death was by suicide.

“We don’t really think about that topic until it happens next door,” Molina said.

Alcantar’s brother told her friends during the vigil, held last week in the Free Speech Area, to cherish their loved ones. Life is “too short, too precious, too delicate,” he said.

“One day we’re fine and the next we might not even be here,” Rodrigo Alcantar said. “Let’s just take our time and talk to our parents, talk to our family, our friends, and never hold any grudges.”

In their most recent data, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists suicide as the No. 2-leading cause of death among those between the ages of 10 and 24.

It’s a topic now firmly established in Molina’s mind, she said. And she said that even those who did not know Alcantar, or who have never met someone dealing with suicidal behavior, needs to become more aware of the dangers of mental illness.

“I want to spread awareness that mental illness can happen to anyone, even the happiest person,” Molina said.

Alcantar’s struggles during her life are just as important as Alcantar’s joy, Molina said.

During the vigil, Molina shed tears for Alcantar. She considered her a sister more than a friend, she said. They had been middle and high school friends and became roommates when they transferred to Fresno State in 2014.

“At this point, there is a hole in my heart where she laid, and all I can do now is fill that hole with memories that she had,” Molina said during the vigil. Tears streamed down her cheeks.

At times, the two ate ice cream together to cope with “boy problems” and other times they drank orange juice out of wine glasses to feel “fancy,” Molina recounted.

Those memories pierced through the sadness of the vigil and brought brief moments of laughter from those who gathered to honor Alcantar.

“I think it’s most difficult for me because I was there at the low points before everything happened. I was there every single day with her, in the same room with her,” Molina said. “It’s hard for me to not look back at all the conversations that we had leading up to this point.”

Molina said she has already learned so much through her grieving process. Some of that learning includes coming to terms with knowing that she could have done more for Alcantar.

“You need to have friends in both areas. You need to have friends on both sides of the spectrum,” Molina said. “I just want to say, like, it’s important to not be afraid to share your struggles.”

Alcantar was a selfless person, according to those who knew her closely. She was so giving that she often forgot to ask for help with her own problems, her friend said.

Alcantar’s colleagues at the university say her work and infectious personality were commendable. Her work ethic was strong during her time with the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), the Jan and Bud Richter Center for Community Engagement and the Hispanic Business Student Association (HBSA), where Alcantar had been vice president last fall.

“[Alcantar] had a strong passion for serving students. She had a strong passion for helping her fellow EOPs. She was a true EOP student leader,” said John Lor, assistant director of the EOP program. “She had inspired many to become EOP peer mentors, to become leaders like herself.”

Alcantar had been the “backbone” of the HBSA board, according to its president, Diana Trujillo.

“She was a hard worker, always thinking of ideas and turning those ideas into realities,” Trujillo said. “She gave everything 100 percent effort and always came back for more because she cared that much for our members and organization.”

But Alcantar’s ability to hide her pains only grew with time, Molina said. Just two weeks before the fall semester came to a close, Alcantar had already begun to close down her own communication with her friends, Molina added.

“No matter how many times I texted her and how many friends had called her and messaged her – I think she just wanted to be with family,” Molina said.

Molina said Alcantar would often lock herself in her room.

In the final days Molina spoke with Alcantar she described Alcantar as “broken.” She said Alcantar had not been the same person she had always known.

Molina added that she cannot help but think of how the outcome could have been different had she just been there more for Alcantar. Molina said she gave Alcantar “her best,” but now she believes that “her best” needed to be more.

“What I want to do now for myself, is now learn what can I say and what can I do for the next person that comes to me with the same struggle,” Molina said.

In a statement to The Collegian, the Student Health and Counseling Center said it encourages students to maintain healthy mental health through their psychological care.

Their Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) program gives students a safe place to share any thoughts and frustrations they may have.

“We have dedicated staff that provide individual and group counseling for students, as well as suicide prevention training where one can learn to recognize and respond to the warning signs of suicide and help someone in need,” counseling center personnel said.

Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro shared his support to students grieving Alcantar’s loss. During the campus vigil, Castro said Alcantar’s legacy should be carried on by those who knew her.

“Each and every one of you are precious to us,” Castro said. “We must take this energy from tonight and learning about all the things that Ana did here on our campus, and use that energy in the coming days and weeks and months and years.”

Resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 24-hour services all week long at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Contact the Fresno State Student Health and Counseling Center at 559-278-2734 from 8 a.m to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday