Not afraid to ask for help

This is a depiction of a student on the Health Center’s Kognito suicide prevention awareness page on the Pierce College website. Kognito is an avatar-based training program designed to help people understand and notice the warning signs of a potential threat.

The number of Pierce College students being hospitalized due to suicidal ideations are higher than they have ever been.

But that shouldn’t be considered a bad thing.

With a total of nine students and 11 hospitalizations, Pierce administrators are speaking out on how the hospitalizations are bringing hope into the dark world of depression.

Clinical psychologist Niaz Khani, who supervises over mental health at the Pierce College Health Center, said that the act of hospitalizing a student is meant to help, not hinder.

“When the hospitalization comes into place, it’s not meant to be a punitive process,” Khani said. “It’s meant to get more attention for the person’s suffering.”

In fall 2017, eight Pierce College students were hospitalized a total of 10 times due to thoughts of suicide.

On the first day of the spring 2018 semester, a student was hospitalized, increasing the number to nine students and 11 hospitalizations.

The topic of mental health has broadened across the Pierce campus, with a Suicide Awareness Week being held this past fall.

Khani said the awareness week could be a factor in the increased rate of hospitalizations, as it focused on teaching students about what signs to look for and how to recognize their feelings.

“I personally don’t think that more people are feeling suicidal than before,” Khani said. “My hunch is that they’re just knowing more about what to do and what kind of resources they could have possible.”

Health Center Director Beth Benne said that students who are thinking of suicide have come to the health center because of information that was handed out during the awareness week.

“We were handing out our name and our addresses, and that’s a good thing, if that person had been suffering in silence,” Benne said.

According to Khani, feelings of depression and anxiety are a part of being human.

“We have a lot of people in this society who are feeling depressed and anxious, and I think that is completely normal because things are always changing in our world,” Khani said. “There’s always things happening, so of course that’s going to bring up feelings. “

According to Vice President of Student Services Earic Dixon-Peters, everyone in the world has been stressed before.

“Our whole purpose is to destigmatized the negativity of needing help,” Dixon-Peters said. “The spectrum of health is from the severity of suicide to ‘I just am stressed out.’”

The amount of people being diagnosed with depression and anxiety is increasing, Khani said.

“The education and the outreach is naming what’s going on, so it’s making help more accessible,” Khani said.

Since the introduction of Kognito, an avatar-based online training program, to Pierce in 2013, there have been a total of 2,165 students who have completed the education, Benne said.

The Health Center began presenting the program in classrooms during fall 2017.

Benne said that she is proud of the students who have completed the training because knowing the warning signs of someone who is suicidal is important.

“It’s just like teaching somebody the Heimlich maneuver,” Benne said. “You may never use it, but how wonderful that you might know how to help somebody.”

Khani said that she doesn’t want students to fear that if they have thought about suicide, they will immediately be hospitalized.

“That’s not the case,” Khani said. “We have been trained and we know which questions to ask. We need to assess risk to themselves and to others. Some of the people we’ve hospitalized in the past have been hospitalized years ago. So it’s not that all of a sudden this came up.”

According to Dixon-Peters, the issue of hospitalizations is not just happening in higher education, but nationally.

“We are dealing with a critical issue,” Dixon-Peters said. “How we deal with these types of incidents, we have what we call a behavioral intervention team.”

The team, which Dixon-Peters said is there to help students be successful, meets weekly and consists of faculty, administrators, both mental and physical health professionals, law enforcement and himself.

“As the committee, if that situation is at that critical level, either law enforcement or a certified health professional will say this person needs to get support now,” Dixon-Peters said.

Khani said that students should not fear expressing their feelings, because they are not alone.

“The pain is still there, but there are others who are also feeling the pain for different reasons,” Kahani said. “That’s one thing that we do with groups. We try to have a focus group so people can relate and they don’t have to feel like they’re suffering.”

Contact the Pierce College Health Center for information on individual and group counseling or if you are having any thoughts of depression or suicide. The Health Center is located on the second floor of the Student Services Building. (818) 710-4270.