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Suicide Prevention Month: Practical coping strategies from students and staff

Madeline Colón, one of the clinicians at USF’s counseling center, discussed on-campus resources for students who may be dealing with suicidal thoughts. She and a few USF students shared helpful anxiety and mood management strategies.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, a time when individuals, communities and survivors unite under the shared goal of promoting suicide prevention awareness. I spoke with Madeline Colón, a staff clinician at USF’s counseling center, about the center’s role as a safe space for students to talk about mental health.

“We teach students coping skills to manage everyday stressors including adjusting to college life, building healthy relationships and managing anxiety and depression,” said Colón.

Untreated mental illness, substance abuse and feelings of hopelessness are a few significant factors that contribute to suicidal thoughts, said Colón.

Colón encouraged students and faculty to attend the upcoming Campus Connect training on Sept. 27 from 1-3:30 p.m. at EDU 316. Those interested can register on GEMS, accessible under the business systems section of USF’s website.

In this training, participants will learn to observe warning signs using strategies like O.A.R.S (open-ended questions, affirmations, reflective listening and summarizing). The purpose of the training is to teach individuals how to empathize and engage with people who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts.

According to the Campus Connect page on the counseling center’s website, 65.1 percent of students want to know more about resources for helping students who are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

But, why are mental health resources becoming more of a necessity in recent years? Is there any correlation between the severity of mental health issues and a college environment?

About 80 percent of college students who commited suicide never approached the campus counseling centers at their school, according to the USF Counseling Center’s website.

“As troubling as the statistics are, it’s also important to remember that the prevalence of suicide in college students is lower than for young adults who are not in college,” said Colón. “Any occurrence of suicidal thought or action is troubling, but the environment of college [appears] to be a protective factor for young adults.” 

The obstacles that come with pursuing higher education could be a contributing factor, but schools like USF recognize that students need opportunities to release negative emotions. Resources like the Counseling Center aid in the design of USF’s atmosphere. 

However, counseling isn’t always the first method of coping that people pursue. The expertise of a trained counselor is invaluable, but there are many supplemental ways of coping that help individuals who haven’t had an opportunity to speak with a professional.

I asked several USF students about the coping strategies that they practice in their daily lives to manage feelings of anxiety and sadness. 

Kirsten Boehlke, a second-year mass communications student, said “I remove myself from situations that make me feel overwhelmed. I reach out to close friends and [get] lots of sleep.”

Of the students I spoke to, many said that the first step of mental health management is to remove yourself from toxic situations and stop toxic behaviors. 

Highlighting positives and distracting yourself from the negatives was another recurrent practice among the students I spoke to. 

“Concentrate on something that last made [you] smile,” said Kyden Payne, a second-year English major. 

Christina Farese, a first-year nursing student, recommends writing down your thoughts and feelings. 

“[I write] all of the thoughts in my head down on paper. It organizes my thoughts and helps me quiet my thoughts,” said Farese.

Simple strategies like these help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Many seemingly unrelated parts of people’s daily routines can exacerbate mental health issues. 

Self-care is very important,” said Colón. “Set up a consistent bedtime routine, [limit] caffeine and alcohol and [put] the phone down before bed to avoid stimulation.”

Without the support of other people, it can be daunting to sift through emotions and interpret symptoms.  By using USF-provided resources and creating personal tactics for betterment, anyone can successfully reduce anxious and depressive episodes. 

“You are not alone and you do not have to deal with your symptoms alone. Anxiety and depression can be common in college, but the good news is, [they’re] treatable,” Colón said.