Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston and Dr. Eileen Riley prepare to lead presentation on Ohio State campus suicide at the Suicide Prevention Conference on Sept. 28 in the Archie Griffin West Ballroom in the Ohio Union. Credit: Lily Maslia | Lantern Reporter

Amid campuswide discussions about mental health, Ohio State’s fifth-annual Suicide Prevention Conference took place Friday, addressing suicide risk in young adults on campus.

The event, titled “Suicide Prevention at Ohio Schools and Campuses,” took place at the Ohio Union and featured presentations from leading researchers and advocates, as well as University President Michael Drake, and was hosted by the Wexner Medical Center, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

The stated goal of the conference was to help attendees “apply principles of an evidence-based model of effective suicide risk assessment and intervention.”

Focused primarily on the state of Ohio and young adults at risk for suicide, the conference hosted 375 people, ranging from primary, secondary and higher educators and counselors to mental health professionals and students.

One of the breakout sessions at the conference was “Responding to Campus Suicide,” led by Eileen Ryan, interim chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, and Javaune Adams-Gaston, vice president of student life at Ohio State. Both served as chairs of President Drake’s mental health and suicide task force.

The presentation looked at Ohio State and Drake’s mental health task force that was created last April following two deaths that resulted from falls from campus parking garages.

“The president was very clear when he was charging the group that we should not start with any preconceived notions about solutions, that we should really be as open as possible,” Adams-Gaston said.

Ryan highlighted the five most prominent challenges the task force faced when charged with creating recommendations for addressing campus suicide and mental health.

“Something that we felt was a major challenge was the inaccurate conflation of mental health access with completed suicide,” Ryan said. “We had no indication that mental health access, or a lack thereof, was related to completed suicide on campus.”

Adams-Gaston said the task force met with campus experts from areas such as the counseling center, health center and residence life to identify solutions.

“We spent time with our campus experts to gauge a stronger understanding of what is and what is not available on our campus,” Adams-Gaston said.

Between 2017 and 2018, three students and one graduate fell from on-campus parking garages. The incidents sparked mental health advocates to look to Ohio State for adequate resources.

Ohio State’s Counseling and Consultation Services is a prominent resource for on-campus access to mental health screening and counseling. Though CCS is not new to campus, the task force included recommendations for revamping CCS.

“I definitely know that CCS has done a bit of expanding about every year, but it still isn’t enough,” Anwar Hussein, Ohio State alumnus and volunteer at Suicide Prevention Hotline, said. “There aren’t necessarily that many counselors or psychiatrists especially within CCS that are representative of the diverse background of OSU’s student population.”

Other student advocates look toward more preliminary methods.

“I like to focus more on the initial steps of prevention, so for example with CCS not having enough counselors, who’s to say that if they had 1,000 more counselors, then all the students would go there,” Fatima Masood, president of Peers Reaching Out and a fifth-year in microbiology, said.

Masood, also an advisory board member for Ohio State’s Suicide Prevention Program, noted the importance of raising awareness for mental health issues.

“Breaking that stigma and promoting awareness for [mental health] is what will start the process of intervention,” Masood said.