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VCU, Richmond tackling youth-suicide prevention

By JESSI GOWER

Capital News Service

 

RICHMOND – According to clinical studies, college-aged students are two times more likely to attempt or commit suicide than any other age group, according to clinical studies. And Virginia Commonwealth University students are no exception. The university just recently lost two students, within a five-day period, to suicide.

On a campus as large as VCU, it’s easy for students to feel lost or helpless. For students these feelings were apparently too much to bear and the two Rams were lost to suicide.

Before the two incidents occurred, VCU hadn’t suffered a student suicide in several years. Despite this face, some students, such as freshman Sophie Juola, say feelings of anxiety, depression-and even suicide- are often commonplace throughout campus.

“I think it’s very easy for students to feel depressed on campus,” Juola said. “Schoolwork, more often than not, just becomes a long list of that never really end. That can become really stressful.”

However, students suffering from these feelings do have help and resources available to them. The VCU University Counseling Services is just one of the many organizations offering a beacon of hope for students struggling with mental, emotional and psychological problems.

Counseling Services Director Dr. Jihad Aziz says the counseling services are staffed with licensed, clinical psychologists as well as social workers that are available to students.

“We provide individual and group therapy, as well as psychiatric medication for students,” Aziz said. “They’re free and confidential. And I have some really great clinical staff members working with us.”

Along with providing therapy and medical consultations, The  counseling services also focus on prevention and preventative measures. One of these measures is a 24/7, 365-days-a-year crisis hotline for students who are feeling emotionally unstable or desperate and need immediate assistance. Still, Aziz says there is always room for improvement.

“We need to think about what we’re doing,” Aziz said. “And we need to think about what more we can do in the means of preventative measures.”

However, some students say they think the counseling services need to improve in other ways than just prevention.

“It’s easy to get the first appointment,” Juola said. “Follow up appointments-not so much. I’ve had to wait weeks just for my second appointment. I think they need to work on fixing that.”

Aziz said the waiting periods for follow up appointments can be lengthy, but it’s generally the same wait time a person would find at a private therapist or psychiatrist office. He also said that although the waiting time for a scheduled appointment can take up to weeks, the counseling service does take immediate walk-ins for extreme scenarios in which the student is highly distressed and/or has potential to harm themselves or others.

Similar to VCU’s counseling services, ROSMY is an organization in the Richmond area that provides emotional support and resources to Virginia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning LGBTQ youth. Research has found that attempted suicide rates and suicide ideation are comparably higher among this group of teens and young adults than with heterosexual youth.

“ROSMY continues to be the only organization in the area that directly addresses the unique needs and the healthy social development of LGBTQ youth ages 11-20,” the ROSMY website states.

The organization says it offers weekly youth support meetings, sensitivity training for professionals, educational resources, youth leadership initiatives and a safe place where all youth are encouraged to value the diverse individuals who make our community a dynamic, exceptional place.

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