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Suicide prevention programs introduced in Ohio colleges

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In Ohio one person commits suicide every six hours, and every year suicide takes over 40,000 lives in the United States — more than a combination of war, murder and natural disasters in a year. But a new bill to fight this issue is making its way through the Ohio General Assembly after being passed unanimously by the House at the end of March.

House Bill 28 will try to increase knowledge and resources on how to prevent suicide by requiring state colleges and universities to implement policies to guide students and staff on suicide prevention programs on and off campus and provide incoming freshman with information about depression and suicide.

It will also require the Ohio Department of Health and Addiction Services and the Ohio Board of Regents to post free prevention materials and program information online.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Ohioans between the ages of 10 and 64, and it is the second leading cause of death for Ohioans between the ages of 15 and 34, said Tracy Plouck, Director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, in an Ohio House Committee testimony. Suicide rates have also increased by 27 percent between 2000 and 2010, Plouck said.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Marlene Anielski, R-Walton Hills, has received support from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, which believes the bill will provide necessary resources for an at-risk population.

“Too often students do not know how to seek help, resulting in a tragedy,” said Plouck in her testimony. “HB 28 will tackle this issue by ensuring the essential services are available and by educating students about mental health topics.”

Anielski introduced a similar piece of legislation, the Jason Flatt Act, in 2012. This legislation, which passed, “required all educators in the state to complete 2 hours of youth suicide awareness and prevention training each year in order to be able to be licensed to teach,” according to The Jason Foundation’s website.

Ohio University already has a program called Bobcats Who Care that focuses on suicide prevention at the OU Athens campus. This program trains “gatekeepers” about knowledge and skills about suicide and how to respond to people in need.

Bobcats Who Care was modeled after Campus Connect and has trained over 350 students, faculty and staff at Ohio University since July 2014, according to Krystal Hernandez, the coordinator of Bobcats Who Care. In addition to OU, over 120 college/universities nationwide have implemented this program.

Bobcats Who Care’s goal is to respond to the reality that at least one student has died by suicide at OU for the past several years; better equip individuals with the knowledge, skills and awareness to understand and support suicide prevention; help decrease the stigma around mental health issues and seeking counseling and professional assistance; and increase the presence and utilization of mental health resources on campus.

Hernandez believes that HB 28 fits well with what Ohio University already has implemented.

“The new legislation aligns well with what we have already implemented at OU in terms of suicide prevention gatekeeper training, and our goal with Bobcats Who Care is to train as much of campus as possible,” Hernandez said.

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