Suicide hits LA district

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Two students within the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) committed suicide. One student attended Valley College and the other attended Mission College. One of the students was a veteran.

The announcement was made at the Board of Trustees meeting at Pierce College on Wednesday, Oct. 5 in the Great Hall.

After a moment of silence at the beginning of the meeting, the Board of Trustees President Scott Svonkin announced that there had been a student from Valley College who committed suicide. Shortly after, a representative from Mission College announced that a student from their school, who was a veteran, had also committed suicide.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 800,000 commit suicide each year. It is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 29.

According to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs study in 2013, 22 veterans commit suicide everyday. This has led many people to post videos online of themselves completing physical challenges related to the number, such as 22 push-ups, to spread awareness on social media.

The ASO President and war veteran Barbara Lombrano believes that spreading awareness about such tragedies will encourage others to become more proactive.

“Oftentimes, when soldiers return home, it is difficult for them to integrate back into civilian life,” Lombrano said.

War and disasters can make a large impact on an individual’s mental health and psychosocial well-being. According to WHO, rates of mental disorders tend to double after emergencies.

“When you’re in the military, it is drilled into you that you’re tough, you’re strong, you can do it, you don’t need anyone. So when people do come back, weather they get [released] or are still in the military, the majority don’t seek out help because they feel that it makes them a weak person,” Lombrano said. “You’re supposed to be strong and take on a lot, so to say maybe I need therapy, or maybe I need help, to them, makes them feel like less of a person.”

Lombrano used her personal experience as a veteran fighting during the first Gulf War to make sure her son, who also enlisted in the military, was aware that help was available to him.

She encouraged him to avoid suppressing his emotions and to reach out for support through the Veterans Association upon returning home.

According to the World Health Organization, misunderstanding and stigma surrounding mental health is widespread. Despite the existence of effective treatments for mental disorders, there is a belief that they are untreatable or that people with mental disorders are difficult, unintelligent, or incapable of making decisions. This stigma can lead to abuse, rejection and isolation and exclude people from health care or support.

Pierce College Health Center Director Beth Benne said that there are about 50 hours a week of mental health services available on campus where students can sign up for one-on-one counseling.

“They might look like they haven’t washed their hair in two weeks, you might begin to smell body odor, you might notice that they’re wearing dirty clothes, all of these are some serious signs of something wrong,” Benne said.

Benne encourages students who notice signs such as these, to speak with an instructor, come to the Health Center, or talk to the student directly and encourage them to visit the Health Center or Sheriff’s office.

In addition, through the spring of 2017, all of the community colleges in the state of California, have access to Kognito’s “At-Risk” avatar-based training. The training simulation is available for all students, faculty and staff members and uses avatar-based simulations to train users to be more aware of at risk behaviors in their peers. The program might be discontinued this spring and might no longer be free to the colleges, with no guarantee that the district will choose to pay for it going forward.

One of the key features available upon completion of the training is the resource button which enables users to see local resources, including the Pierce College Health Center, West Valley, and Olive View Community Mental Health Urgent Care Center, among others. Kognito also offers a similar avatar based training program specifically for veterans.

According to the World Health Organization, early identification and effective management are key to ensuring that people receive the care they need.

Benne believes that mental health services are one of the biggest unmet needs on campus. Appointments are booked back to back and there is currently a waiting list to meet with a mental health care professional.

“The problem with most of our mental health issues is that there’s a wait. The college has approved a full time psychologist position out of program 100, not out of health fees because we can’t afford it,” Benne said. “The problem is, the position doesn’t exist in the district, so we have to create a position, which is another bureaucratic process that we have to go through and it’s going to take time.”

Benne said that the Health Center is short handed. She hopes the school will soon hire a full-time psychologist for Pierce to become an American Psychological Association (APA) accredited internship site. This would give Pierce access to a much larger pool of mental health interns.

Pierce College participated in the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment last spring. In the executive summary, students identified their top 20 impediments to academic success. Of the top 20, the highest ranked responses were, stress, anxiety, and depression.

According to the 2016 results, many emotional and social issues such as depression, sleep deprivation, and stress had increased considerably since the 2010 survey was taken. Some results, such as those for anxiety, even doubled, rising from 10.4 percent in 2010 to 22.4 percent in 2016.

Pierce College Health Center Assistant Loralyn Frederick wants students to know that the Health Center is a safe space where those struggling with mental health issues can come to seek help.

“The first step for most students is to come in, and that’s often the most difficult part, but we do try to make them aware that we have a safe place that they can come to,” Fredrick said. “We’re trying to make an effort to get the word out that we are here to help [students] and whenever they’re ready to come and take that first step, they can call us, come in and complete the paperwork, and begin the process at no cost to them.”

The Student Health Center offers many no-cost services including up to six individual psychological counseling sessions with a licensed psychologist or post-doctoral intern. Weekly group therapy is also available.

The Pierce College Student Health Center is located on the second floor of the Student Services building and is open Monday through Thursday, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the fall and spring semesters.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health issues, don’t hesitate to make an appointment. You can call the Health Center at (818) 710-4270 or a suicide hotline 1(800) 273- 8255.