Several weeks ago, National Suicide Prevention Week took place across the nation and La Salle’s campus. The importance of this week cannot be overstated; suicide prevention and mental health awareness and acceptance are critical now more than ever, especially among college students for whom suicide is the second leading cause of death.
This past week the Students’ Government Association (SGA) planned a mental health campaign to raise awareness of mental health resources. Various student organizations were invited to participate in the campaign as a way to pursue the issue with a united front across campus. Mental health cuts are occuring across all organizations and one of the most common hurdles to seeking help is knowing where to look.
Unfortunately, the campaign this week was not well executed or organized and, in conjunction with bad weather and abnormal amounts of rain, became lost in the shuffle of campus life so that few students were aware of its existence. The botched implementation of a mental health initiative only mirrors La Salle’s longer record in not providing adequate counseling services or making students aware of them.
La Salle University has a counseling center located in the Medical Office Building on West Campus. It is open to the whole student body both by appointment and, to a degree, for walk-ins. It exists, in their own words, to help students, “identify, clarify and resolve issues of importance to you in an atmosphere of trust and confidentiality” and works, as best as it can to meet these stated goals. However, the counseling center, whose resources and location are relatively unknown, still has faced issues in the past with high demand, which complicates the appointment-making process.
This is not to say that the center does not do good work. It certainly does, but it faces the problem common to so many departments on campus — it is tasked with meeting the needs of a community with few resources and less recognition.
La Salle’s acceptance of the Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Grant was an attempt to close the deficit of what the school provides for mental health and what it needs. The grant’s funding, according the University, is to be used to “reduce the potential for deaths of students due to suicide or alcohol/drug overdose by increasing outreach to the University’s most vulnerable students; increasing by-stander interventions by faculty, staff and friends; and increasing help-seeking behaviors by students in need.” It is a critical step in the right direction.
Fortunately, the nature of the University rooted in Lasallian values prevents students from slipping through the cracks and going unnoticed. La Salle is truly a community. When students start to demonstrate symptoms of deteriorating mental health, friends, teachers and staff notice. When students do not show up to class teachers email them, not to scold but to check if they are ok. When students do not participate in events and activities, on campus resident staff members check in. When one has not left their room all day, friends come to visit.
Community stops students from falling through the cracks — but only to a degree. As that community grows and college students are put under ever more pressure, individual, uncoordinated actions cannot be relied on. A coherent and ordered system for addressing and helping students with mental health issues is needed. Hopefully, the reception of this grant is the first step in developing a more cohesive system by providing more resources and spreading awareness about issues surrounding mental health.