EDITORIAL BOARD: USC must do more for suicide prevention

Grace Cillo | Daily Trojan

Starting Sunday, USC will participate in National Suicide Prevention Week, an annual campaign that will take place this year from Sept. 9 to 15, with two open discussion sessions on Sept. 10. The following week, the Engemann Student Health Center will begin its weekly, hour-long drop-in counseling sessions Mondays to Thursdays.

Since the beginning of fall semester, USC Student Health has introduced new programming focused on mental health and wellness, from resident assistant support groups to weekly workshops. And while the University is making progress, this is only the first step to truly addressing suicide prevention on campus.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college-age adults, after car accidents, according to The New York Times. The National College Health Assessment has found an alarming increase in depression and thoughts of suicide among college students in the last five years. In 2017, 40.2 percent of college students suffered from depression, almost 8 percent more than reported in 2013. What’s more, 11.5 percent reported thoughts of suicide and 1.7 percent reported a suicide attempt. Currently, a staggering 1 in 12 college students has a suicide plan.

Given these shocking statistics, it is disappointing that the University is not taking substantive action beyond a few poorly advertised wellness sessions. Posting flyers and sending out mass emails are unlikely to urge students to use Health Center resources.

Taking place the same week as USC’s roster of events, the University of Buffalo is also planning to take part in activities to mark National Suicide Prevention Week. In stark contrast, the University of Buffalo has planned a full week of events including an Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention, a Wellness Activity Day, a screening of a documentary that chronicles the recovery of a suicide-attempt survivor and Suicide Prevention Training that will teach students to recognize the warning signs of suicide and ways to effectively help peers in need.

The school’s website also includes links to make donations to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, with whom the university has partnered to organize the walk, and an online registration form to sign up for the training.

USC’s offerings pale in comparison — both in quantity and quality. USC Student Health’s single promotional flyer for Suicide Prevention Week merely lists contact information for campus resources, an invitation to join a hashtag campaign and implores students to attend a drop-in discussion for an “interactive and informative [discussion] on this topic.” The vagueness of this description is hardly motivational or intriguing to students. A topic as heavy as suicide prevention cannot be discussed with trite buzzwords, without essential components like education and promoting wellness.

While USC is at least doing something, its not doing enough to effectively engage students and provide them with pragmatic knowledge. Instead, its wellness initiatives are riddled with impracticalities that make mental health resources even more scarce and difficult to access. Drop-in counseling sessions will only last from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., with only one counselor available each day. While this is certainly a respectable effort to increase access to counseling, it is also a half-baked Band-Aid solution that fails to ameliorate the greater issue of mental health on campus. Realistically speaking, only one student will be able to see a counselor each day for an appropriate-length talk through these drop-in sessions. The real solution to this issue, which has been covered extensively by the Daily Trojan, is to hire more mental health counselors to accommodate students’ needs.

Like the University of Buffalo, we need to be combating the root of the issue by explicitly teaching wellness and educating students about the signs and ways to prevent suicide. A voluntary, hour-long “discussion” simply won’t suffice. Neither will leaving it up to the students to ask for help on their own accords — stigmas surrounding the act of seeking mental health support still exist and health and wellness professionals must take initiative in reaching out to students.

Our campus is no stranger to suicide. As students — and members of the Trojan Family — we must remain vigilant. Our personal wellness and that of our peers is not trivial and must be taken more seriously by our administrators. Although their intentions are pure, it’s high time campus health professionals took a more innovative, engaging and personalized approach to suicide prevention education and demonstrate that they truly empathize with the needs of the student body. They need to go beyond illusory social media campaigns and spontaneous wellness conferences; they must actually reach out to students on campus, whether it be through tabling on Trousdale, going into classes to speak about health resources for five minutes at a time or organizing more comprehensive and consistent wellness activities.

We at USC must not confine suicide prevention efforts to one week — we must do better as a school and as a community to nourish, protect and care for one another. In this way, we can cultivate a culture of wellness and support among members of the Trojan Family.

Daily Trojan Fall 2018 Editorial Board