Web site provides lifeline or suicidal students

Ulifeline.org offers help for people who feel they are in need of reaching out to talk to someone about problems in their life. CNJ staff illustration: Eric Kluth

STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

Faced with a growing number of student suicides, some universities are trying to combat the trend by offering depressed students the anonymity of the Internet to seek mental health counseling.
More than 80 universities have signed up so far for Ulifeline.org, which provides students a link to school mental health centers for information, counseling or to schedule appointments.
At the same time, the free program gives universities the chance to help ailing students by using a favorite tool: the Internet.
‘‘It’s a tragic element of college life that suicide is part of it,’’ said Peter Likins, president of the University of Arizona. ‘‘Often times, people in depression are not able to go to mental health services that are available on campuses. They’re embarrassed.
‘‘Some of these youngsters may be willing to explore on the Internet and get some anonymous feedback,’’ he said.
The suicide rate among 15- to 24-year-olds has tripled since the 1950s, and now stands at about 9.9 deaths per 100,000 people.
Ty Walker, director of mental health counseling and career services at Eastern New Mexico University, said the local university isn’t exempt from dealing with those kind of student issues.
“We certainly get those kids who get depressed and who think about suicide,” he said. “We have Project ROAR (Response, Outreach, Advocacy, Resources) in place to help victims of harassment, sexual assault, and relationship violence. We have counselors on campus to help students who are struggling with suicidal ideation. We’re also trying to develop our own Web site, but it’s hard for us to man a 24-hour hotline because we’re so short-staffed.”
Eastern has 3,600 students on campus and four mental health counselors (including Walker).
“We train the resident assistants (who live in the dorms) to spot any potential problems and bring those students to our staff,” he said. “They don’t do any counseling — they just bring them to us. We haven’t had anybody who’s succeeded (in committing suicide), so we just thank God for that. We’ve seen a lot of surge in depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation among college students. So we have to take a real pro-active approach to head it off. We’re OK, but we’re going to have to get more counselors on staff.”
The Ulifeline.org Web site is one of several programs offered by the Jed Foundation, which was created by Phil and Donna Satow after their 20-year-old son Jed took his own life in 1998 by hanging himself.
Phil Satow said the Internet is the perfect medium to teach the current generation of students about the signs of depression. Realizing they missed those signs has been difficult for Jed’s friends to live with, he said.
‘‘That’s what’s been so devastating for them,’’ Satow said. ‘‘That’s one of the reasons they felt this Web site was so important.’’
Jay Zimmerman, the associate director of Ball State’s counseling center, said the Web site can help eliminate the stigma associated with mental health disorders.
‘‘The more students who access our Web site, the more information they have, the more likely they are to get help or get help for their friends,’’ he said. ‘‘And, the more likely they are to lead happier, healthier lives.’’

CNJ senior writer Gary Mitchell and The Associated Press contributed to this report.