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As USF implements suicide prevention measures, do students and faculty think it’s enough?

USF’s three-phase approach to adding suicide prevention measures to on-campus parking garages, including fences, will be complete in spring 2024. ORACLE PHOTO/JUSTIN SEECHARAN

Some students, like public health senior Bich Huynh, said they feel USF needs to prioritize improving mental health on campus – rather than relying on physical deterrents – to prevent suicides.

However, faculty such as Ryan Wagoner, USF Health associate professor and Vice Chair for Clinical Services, said adding physical barriers to on-campus parking garages is necessary for the university to help protect students.

USF implemented a three-phase plan to improve on-campus parking garage safety following two apparent suicides since last fall, according to a September Oracle article. Trees and shrubbery were added to the garages’ perimeters in the first phase, and fences were installed on the top floors of the structures in the second phase. 

Related: University Police investigating potential suicide at Beard Garage

In the final phase, additional fences will be added to the garages’ lower levels by spring 2024, according to the article.

Huynh said these measures are not enough to reduce suicides on campus.

“I think that the roots, or the sources of the problems have to be tackled to begin with,” Huynh said.

Biology senior Shiva Saravanan said putting up fences is only putting a bandage on a larger issue.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean the mental health issues and the suicidal ideations that people go through are lessened,” Saravanan said about the project.

Saravanan said the fences are not a complete waste of resources because she sees them as necessary for general safety. 

She said the fences were a good first step — but they aren’t enough to help students dealing with poor mental health.

“I just don’t like that the school is putting the fences up and being like ‘We’re done. We’ve solved the problem,’” she said. “It has to go beyond the fences.”

Director of Media Relations Althea Johnson said these measures are additional steps USF has taken to help protect its community, and it will continue to implement new initiatives to support student wellness.

“We also recognize that mental health is a complex challenge facing our society at large, and USF’s role as a leading research university puts our faculty at the forefront of studying this important issue,” she said. 

Saravanan has utilized mental health resources at USF, including the Counseling Center. She said her appointments felt rushed, too infrequent and she struggled to find a counselor who related to her.

“Because the therapists are just trying to see as many people as they can, they kind of just push people out. So people don’t really feel like their issues are being handled,” Saravanan said.

However, Counseling Center Director Scott Strader said the center is doing what they can with the available resources.

Strader said the fences are meant to help students recognize and safely respond to suicidal thoughts. 

Related: Protective fences installed on top floors of Beard, Crescent Hill parking garages

Still, he said there is always room for USF to improve how it supports its students.

He said USF could use social media more to reduce stigma, educate students and inform them about their options for receiving help.

The Counseling Center offers same-day, urgent care services and drop-in groups, Strader said. USF also partnered with TogetherAll and TimelyCare in to offer online resources for students.

Huynh said she wants USF to educate students about mental health, work toward destigmatizing treatments and host and promote events that foster friendship.

Wagoner said signs posted along the parking garage fences offer resources to students, reading “You matter” and offering the contact information for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and an emergency counselor. Wagoner said these signs remind students that they have other options.

“If we’re giving you an opportunity and we’re letting you know and we’re providing you with the information, providing you with the access, that, to me, is powerful,” Wagoner said.

Strader said he understands students may be in a vulnerable state, but the signs offer immediate resources that students can respond to. He urged students not to wait when dealing with mental health issues.

Wagoner said the fences are a deterrent, but not the only thing USF does to prevent suicides. 

“I think that the fences themselves are something that can be of benefit here. They definitely won’t hurt anything,” Wagoner said.