The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has awarded California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) a three-year, $250,431 grant to establish Project OCEAN (On Campus Emergency Assistance Network), a joint program that will focus on the prevention of campus suicides.
Awarded through SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services, the CSULB award was one of just 10 new awards given nationally to help prevent suicide on college campuses, and CSULB’s grant was one of just two awarded to California universities. Seven renewal grants were also given out.
“Of the 18 million enrolled students in higher education institutions, 234,000 attempt suicide every year. That’s 19,500 every month or 642 every day,” said SAMHSA Acting Administrator Eric Broderick. “The complex problem of suicide and suicidal behaviors on campuses demands a coordinated response. These grants will be used to target both the general campus population and identifiable at-risk populations where college students live, study, work and play.”
SAMHSA’s Campus Suicide Prevention Grants Program is designed to assist colleges and universities in their efforts to prevent suicide attempts and completions. The program is also designed to enhance services for students with mental and behavioral health problems, such as depression and substance abuse, which put them at risk for suicide and suicide attempts.
Under the guidance of David Sanfilippo, director of CSULB’s Disabled Student Services (DSS), Project OCEAN will include the participation of the campus’ Counseling and Psychological Services Office and Student Health Center. Rachelle Ang, a case manager with DSS and the CSULB counseling center, is the lead staff member for the project.
“Statistically, we know that suicide is the second leading cause of death for 24- to 35-year-olds and the third leading cause of death for 18- to 24-year-olds. So, we felt it was an important issue to address,” Sanfilippo said. “The overall goal of Project OCEAN is to help prevent suicide by promoting a campus climate that honors the lives of all students while encouraging and allowing them to seek support when it is needed.”
Initially, the project will target “high-risk” students and provide them with increased education, screening and support services.
“We want to help people get help for themselves, and at the same time we want to decrease the stigma attached to those seeking help,” Ang pointed out. “To help do that, a large part of the grant has been set aside for ‘social marketing,’ activities that will let people know what symptoms to look for and encourage those who are having difficulties to seek help.”
Ang said those involved with the project are currently in what she called the “learning phase.” Under SAMHSA, there is a suicide prevention resource center that is providing a number of resources, including training. This training is helping project staff learn what other resources are available and ways to gather everything together and organize it.
The focus of the grant, Sanfilippo said, will be to “train trainers” to train others. From there, information regarding symptoms to watch for and help that is available is expected to trickle down and throughout the campus community.
Increasing awareness among faculty and staff on campus is another big focus for Sanfilippo, especially following the Virginia Tech tragedy a couple of years ago. “We both felt that faculty and staff at Virginia Tech weren’t prepared or armed with the knowledge about what to do,” he said. “Rather than having actions come from a fear-based reaction to events that are unfolding, we want to help create an environment where there is more of an informed, preventive approach to help faculty and staff recognize symptoms, lend support to these individuals and make referrals.
“Project OCEAN is really a university-wide initiative to begin to deal with and tackle the mental health issues that our students face,” he added. “We’re not burying our heads in the sand. We realize the issues and challenges are there, and we are facing them as a university. It’s a great opportunity.”