As the fall semester comes to a close, students at the University of Southern California (USC) have their mind on more than holiday breaks: they are instead thinking about the nine students that passed away during recent months. For such a relevant topic to college students, mental health conversations are usually left in freshmen orientation classes – when awareness can save a life. Most colleges, like LMU, offer helpful resources for those struggling, but two-thirds of students with anxiety and depression do not seek help, according to Active Minds. These reservations to seek guidance can be bridged through open conversation and education, and students can learn from the USC tragedies as a way to progress.
Compared to other schools, LMU is considerably lucky to have a free, solid program for students. Mental health conversations are incredibly important topics in modern college settings, and the USC tragedies shouldn’t have to occur for this topic to gain attention and support.
USC officials confirmed this week that nine students died during the 2019 fall semester, and three of these deaths are confirmed suicides. The details in other cases have not been disclosed. These tragedies are causing students to facilitate meaningful conversations, demand answers and strive for a community more focused on mental health, according to an article by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Media.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, USC student Natalie Bettendorf said “Students are pleading for answers from the university. There’s a sense of desperation from within the student body. There have been too many deaths and not enough answers.”
The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Media website published an article regarding the recent deaths, along with an e-mail sent to the student body discussing the tragedies. The email, sent on Nov. 9 from the Office of the President, attempted to decrease rumors regarding causes of recent student deaths. In the letter, President Carol L. Folt addressed the speculation that most of these deaths are attributed to suicide, writing that “These tragic losses have resulted from a number of different causes. In some causes the cause of death is still undetermined, and in others the loved ones do not want details disclosed.”
While this letter was sent with the intention to quell rumors, it did just the opposite, raising national attention on the unusual increase in student deaths this semester. Multiple major news sources picked up the story, attempting to investigate the correlation between the school and these occurrences. However, this issue is not just about our Trojan neighbors to the east; the underlying problem is mental health on college campuses this issue brings the underlying issue to light—mental health on college campuses.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 34, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For such an important and relevant topic, mental health conversations are usually left in freshman orientation classes and rarely spoken of again. These cultural norms are in dire need of change, as conversations and services alike must become more readily available. “Offering free on-campus resources is crucial to combat the high levels of anxiety and depression that thrive on college campuses,” said freshman psychology major Annie Kate Oliver.
Given the combination of moving away from home, an overload of schoolwork and the pressure to create a new social life, Oliver is spot-on; depression and anxiety truly thrive on college campuses. The college transition and all that it accompanies often add circumstantial stresses to a student’s mental state, a topic that which is not often discussed openly.
LMU’s Student Psychological Services works to actively break down cultural barriers and offers multiple services for all students, whether they are anywhere between seriously struggling with mental health and just needing someone to talk to. The online SPS website offers multiple self-assessments for students to gauge the need for professional help, which can lead students to a variety of informative resources. SPS physicians offer consultations, individual and group therapy, workshops, couple’s therapy, Therapy Assistance Online (TAO) and immediate assistance after hours.
Freshman health and human sciences major Kyra Parske has specifically found comfort in the free resources provided for students struggling or in transition.
“I think SPS is helpful for people that are struggling or need help adjusting to college,” said Parske. “They are also for people that are struggling with stress and anxiety, which is mainly why I started going."
“I think that it is super important to prioritize your mental health, especially at this time in our lives where things are constantly changing and taking on a lot more responsibilities ... SPS is a perfect opportunity because it is free and accessible, plus you get to see Buster!” said Parske.
Buster, LMU’s resident therapy dog, may be a prime selling point for visiting families on campus tours, but his furry companionship is one of the many small ways LMU works toward building a community that fosters positivity.
While programs are in place moving to help schools move in the right direction, LMU, USC and hundreds of other colleges nationwide still have a long way to go before every student feels supported through the struggles of young adult life. Between schoolwork, extracurriculars and social life, the college experience can be an emotionally draining time — a time where help and guidance can make all the difference. Although SPS offers many helpful resources, their non-emergency availability stays consistently slim to students who just want to talk. With more budgeting, program expansion could be in place to create a more open environment for students who are in not severe or immediate need for help.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. A caller is connected to a certified crisis center near where the call is placed. The call is free and confidential.
This is the opinion of Riley Hetherington, a freshman communication studies major from San Diego, California. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email firstname.lastname@example.org.