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USF brings suicide prevention to the forefront today

With the awareness of mental illness becoming more prevalent in modern society, USF’s Alliance and Suicide Prevention Lab is working to educate students about the importance of this national issue. 

As part of its new social awareness campaign, the lab will host a self-care event today to help promote personal health and mental wellness among students. 

Headed by Dr. Marc Karver, the lab is working with the Florida Council for Community Mental Health to train community members, teachers and others developing relationships with adolescents on how to identify the warning signs of suicide, as well as educate these individuals on how to be suicide gatekeepers for those at risk. 

According to data collected by NCHS Vital Statistics System and the Florida Department of Health, 4,878 people from ages 15 to 24 committed suicide nationally in 2013 with 52 occurring in Hillsborough County alone. 

LaDonna Gleason is the lab manager of the Alliance and Suicide Prevention Lab, which deals primarily with grants focused on preventing suicide among young, college-aged adults. 

Gleason worked on campus as a resident assistant during her undergraduate studies at USF and became fascinated with the work being done within the lab during her time in graduate school. She recognizes that one of the main issues among young people is the lack of education where suicide is concerned. 

“It’s really a lot more prevalent than people believe,” Gleason said. “We still stigmatize mental illnesses in society and suicide is one of those that is probably even more stigmatized than others. I think it’s very important for people to realize that this does happen, there are warning signs and those having suicidal thoughts can get help.”

At the self-care event, the focus will be on explaining the importance of acting as a resource for those in need, as well as making them aware of the campus-wide resources USF has to offer. 

Featured activities will be carnival style, highlighting the mental health resources on campus as well as some off-campus resources and activities students can incorporate into their mental wellness and self-care routine.

“We’ve catered this first event to students who are feeling stressed due to finals and end of semester issues,” Gleason said. “We saw that that was a consistent need in our research due to the workload students face as the term comes to a close.” 

Though the suicide rates at USF are not as high as other parts of the country, she says the college age group is one of the most affected nationwide. Gleason wants students to understand the methods for dealing with stress that comes from exams, and school in general, which can make individuals feel trapped and distant. 

“I want students to feel that they are empowered not only with the resources available on campus, but also with the knowledge of things to do every day in a self-care routine to help manage the stress they may experience,” Gleason said. 

Gleason said any student afraid that a friend might be experiencing suicidal thoughts should take him or her to one of the resources on campus, such as the Counseling Center or Students of Concern Assistance Team (SOCAT) to help alleviate the negative emotions he or she is experiencing. The biggest challenge with the current USF initiatives is that many students experiencing suicidal thoughts cannot bring themselves to get help from these places but instead remain silent. 

“It can feel intimidating, but these employees have extensive training to help get students through tough times,” Gleason said. “There are compassionate and caring people that just want to help everyone feel better about themselves and what they’re doing.” 

The event will take place today from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. outside Beef ‘O’ Brady’s at the weekly Bull Market. This is only the first event in what the lab hopes to turn into many more for students in the upcoming summer and fall terms. 

Those experiencing thoughts of suicide are encouraged to call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for personal assistance at any time. Additionally, 211 can be dialed anywhere in Hillsborough County to reach a crisis counselor at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, which can help those in distress or those in need of resources.