By Justin Wier
A bill that would require the state’s higher-education institutions to establish suicide prevention programs passed the Ohio House of Representatives on a 96-0 vote.
The programs would be required to provide information on crisis intervention, mental health access on and off campus, multimedia application access, student communication plans and postvention plans to communicate with people who have experienced loss to suicide.
It also requires that all incoming students are made aware of the programs and provided with information about suicide prevention.
The bill was sponsored by State Representative Marlene Anielski (R-Walton Hills), who lost a son to suicide.
“It is my intention to bring awareness to the ‘Silent Epidemic’ that is affecting our most precious gifts, our children,” Anielski said in a press release. “For many students, college is the first time they have been away from their family, friends and childhood home. A new life stage can be stressful and unsettling and students need to know programs and help are available should they find themselves or others struggling.”
The bill will need to be approved by the Ohio Senate before it is made into law.
Anne Lally, Youngstown State University’s Mental Health Counselor, said we are already doing a good job of meeting these requirements.
“I believe all my sister institutions are probably on the same page with all of [the regulations], and I do think that the bill … is trying to standardize everything, trying to make sure everyone is on the same page and make sure everyone is receiving these services as needed,” Lally said. “I believe most of the institutions are probably at compliance as well.”
A study conducted by the Center for Disease Control found that one in seven Ohio students reported “seriously considering suicide” in the past 12 months. One in 11 Ohio students reported “attempting suicide one or more times” over the same time period, a rate that roughly 50 percent higher than the national average.
“I don’t know that our statistics here at Youngstown State reflect that. I would say probably a little bit less. But there is some research that says that traditional age group could possibly be more at risk, so we try to be as proactive as possible,” Lally said.
YSU counseling services responded to 20 emergencies in 2011, 12 in 2012, 15 in 2013 and 12 in 2014.
“Those were the emergencies that presented themselves to counseling services,” Lally said. “It doesn’t necessarily always mean that it would be a potential suicide. But if they, or a faculty person, or a staff person says that a person is in crisis, we act as if [they are].”
She said that if an emergency arises on campus, she stops whatever she is doing to respond to the emergency.
“Even if I’m in with a client, the staff will come over and interrupt me. I’ll have the client wait for me somewhere else, and we immediately respond to the emergency,” Lally said.
If she is off campus, people are trained to notify the YSU police department.
“Not that the student is doing anything wrong, but because the YSU police is on campus 24 hours a day. They respond immediately, and they have been trained to respond to issues that may involve mental health,” Lally said.
YSU has only one clinician, while other schools like the University of Akron, Cleveland State University and Wright State University have five to seven.
“I mean sure, optimal, it would be great to have more people. I’m sure, but I think we really respond to any type of issue that comes up with our students on campus. We respond immediately,” Lally said.
Jack Fahey, vice president for student affairs, said it’s a result of our financial situation.
“If you look at our mental health services and our physical health services we have a lean, lean staff,” Fahey said. “It’s nowhere near where we would like it to be, and our long-term goal would be to increase staffing in that area, so we can provide a more robust service to our students.”
Both Fahey and Lally said a strong collaboration with community mental health services helps them to meet the students’ needs.
Counseling services held a program about suicide prevention last fall and intends to again in the future, which would be required by the legislation, but she said it was not as well attended as she would have liked.
“We seem to have that kind of issue on campus. A lot of our students don’t come to the programs. I think some of that is that we have students that have a lot of other obligations. So they’re going to class and then they’re taking care of home, work, whatever,” Lally said.
Despite the lack of attendance, Lally did receive several calls from students as a result of posters advertising the event.
“We did have students call from that poster. So I think in a way it was helpful. Students may not have shown up physically, but they were calling the number on the poster, so I was glad,” Lally said. “We also had a couple students that saw the poster, and they had questions about people — either roommates, fellow students, friends — that they were wondering about, so that prompted that type of communication that I was very pleased about as well.”
She said there are struggles to reach transfer students and students from other universities taking classes during the summer.
“I guess getting information to them might be a challenge. It’s easier when they’re going through our [orientation] process as a traditional student to reach out to all of them and make sure all that information is covered,” Lally said.
She said that despite challenges, students are increasingly aware of the services available on campus.
“The more students I talk to the more I hear, ‘yes, I do know about counseling services.’ So it’s improving,” Lally said. “The communication is improving.”