Campus offices attempt to deter risk of suicide among students

Jessica Bagdovitz | The Oswegonian

There are roughly eight suicides per 100,000 college students or more than 1,000 suicides of college students in the U.S. annually, a study by the American College Health Association (ACHA) estimates.

Another study co-sponsored by the National Mental Health Association and the Jed Foundation said suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 20 to 24-year-olds. It also shows more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from all medical illnesses combined.

With suicide rates as elevated as they are in the range of college-aged students, colleges and universities are trying their best to diminish this increasing trend.

“Right now a lot of what we’re doing is awareness building,” said Ted Winkworth, the AOD Coordinator for the Lifestyle’s Center.

On the Oswego State campus, students needing someone to talk to can find refuge in many places including Mary Walker Health Center, the Lifestyle’s Center, the Counseling Services Center, University Police, Resident Assistants, or attend one of the programs and events on campus that deal with awareness.

“While (the Lifestyle’s Center) does not offer direct services, we feel that our job is to help students understand the realities of depression and suicide and do our part to make it less of a taboo thing to talk about,” Winkworth said.

When students need someone on campus to talk to about their mental health, they can go to the Counseling Services Center. It is a free service offered by the university that allows students to talk with professional counselors about anything students want to talk about.

“They are the ones who interact with students one on one and help them get the help they need if they are suffering from depression,” Winkworth said.

They also offer occasional programs such as a Zen Meditation Workshop every Thursday between Feb. 23 and April 26, from 7 to 8 p.m. in room 205 in the Campus Center.

Resident Assistants are also trained to be able to discuss anything, including thoughts of suicide. Anthony Smith has been a Resident Assistant at both Tompkins Cortland Community College and Oswego State and he believes that he is able to deal with someone experiencing suicidal thoughts.

“No one is adequately trained to deal with someone who is contemplating suicide,” Smith said. “However, being in a position like that of an R.A. gives you a better idea of how to handle that sort of situation.”

He said that dealing with suicidal residents is a major part of R.A. training, specifically learning how to determine if someone is depressed or suicidal, how to hold a conversation when talking with someone who may be contemplating taking their life, and how to not be afraid to ask the pivotal question, “do you want to take your own life?”

“I did have a resident who was suicidal once,” Smith said. “On one occasion she got severely intoxicated and took a knife into the bathroom and locked herself in. On other occasions she would try to overdose on pills. I just talked to her and tried to convince her to relax and once she started talking I was able to ask her that important question. She responded ‘right now I do.’ I called the authorities and U.P. was able to set her up with a psychologist at a hospital.”

With suicide being at least as common a potential problem as any other campus issue, some Oswego State students are doing their best to curb this growing trend. Active Minds, Inc. is a national organization whose aim is to utilize the student voice to change the conversation about mental health on college campuses. Jo Molascon and Melanie Hoffman are the co-presidents of the Oswego Chapter and they put their time aside on Quest Day to sponsor an event called “Send Silence Packing.” The program placed 1,100 backpacks and personal stories around the quad area of central campus to represent the 1,100 college students who commit suicide each year.