Facing desolation

Erin Burris and Nick Mukhar and Erin Burris and Nick Mukhar

Youth suicide rates have been climbing steadily over the past three years according to a local organization, whose mission is to save lives by addressing the social issues of suicide.

The Glendon Association cites suicide as the second leading cause of all injury deaths in Santa Barbara County.

A recent off-campus suicide attempt by a City College student has brought the problem close to home. Public Information Officer Kay Bruce confirmed the incident but college confidentiality regulations prevented her from providing details.

City College is working to address the nationwide trend and has been developing a Suicide Prevention Action Plan in its effort to remedy the problem in the most effective ways possible.

“Essentially the college does have a very strong and extensive suicide action plan,” Bruce said. “The college has worked very hard on it.”

In the United States, a person commits suicide every 17 minutes, making total suicides for one year over 31,500. In addition to suicides, today five million living Americans have attempted suicide, according to Glendon.

In the year 2004, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention cites 4,316 suicides for the ages 15-24. In the world, at least 100,000 adolescents commit suicide each year.

City College defines a suicidal student as: “An individual who is overwhelmed with life stresses to such a degree that death becomes an option. Individuals feeling hopeless, helpless, and chemically depressed or anxious over personal losses are said to be at high risk for suicide.”

The college’s goals are to increase faculty and staff awareness of suicidal behavior, increase early intervention for students with emotional difficulties, prevent suicidal ideation and behavior, and foster psychological well-being among students.

It is also college protocol to assess a student’s risk of suicide when they seek counseling regardless of the reason for their visit. Faculty members are encouraged to refer students they suspect may be at risk to the Counseling Center.

City College’s Health and Wellness Center uses the American Association of Suicidology’s list of warning signs of a potentially suicidal person to determine the level of risk of each individual. Warnings signs include talking about suicide, trouble eating or sleeping, taking unnecessary risks, having had recent severe losses, withdrawing from friends, and increasing alcohol and drug use.

Dr. Lisa Firestone, a clinical psychologist and research and education director for The Glendon Association, has treated City College students for depression and suicidal ideation without the use of medication.

“Depressed students think very negatively and are hopeless. They cannot see good things about themselves because they see things through a distorted filter,” Firestone said.

She added talk therapy can sometimes be the best way to prevent someone from committing suicide. “Teenagers today are under a lot of pressure, without a lot of support.”

Alyson Bostwick, a counselor at the college’s Health and Wellness Center said the college employs many techniques to carry out its intended goals for suicide prevention. The primary focus is simply getting students to utilize the counseling services provided by the Health and Wellness Center.

“We advertise our services; we have to take a pro-active stance,” Bostwick said. “We offer 80 hours a week of counseling.”

Counselors also post informational flyers, distribute materials at tables, and make classroom presentations, Bostwick said.

“People don’t just wake up and decide to commit suicide,” Firestone said. “They usually struggle with something for a long period of time.”

Students in need of help can access counseling services in the Health and Wellness Center, unless immediate help is needed, in which case a student can dial 211 and speak to a representative at the 24 hour Suicide Prevention Hotline. According to a helpline representative, people receive over the phone talk therapy and are given other phone numbers to receive more help. Helpline representatives are not medically trained, but can provide referrals.