Changing the conversation


Photo by Andrea Mitev, Orange Media Network

Jim Gouveia, a licensed clinical social worker and Counseling and Psychological Services counselor, writes out signs and symptoms of an individual contemplating suicide. Gouveia is part of the Oregon State University suicide prevention work group.

Tiffani Smith, News Contributor

For young adults aged 15 to 24, suicide is the second leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics. Of those who commit suicide, nine out of 10 have a diagnosable mental disorder.

Mental health is a part of every person’s overall health and wellbeing, according to Stephanie Shippen, a licensed psychologist at Counseling and Psychological Services on campus. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, Oregon State University has been doing its part to spread awareness and attempt to normalize the conversation regarding mental health as a whole, including suicide prevention.

In an effort to lessen the risk of suicide on campus, OSU, along with nine other Oregon colleges and universities, joined together as members of the Oregon Colleges and Universities Suicide Prevention Project. The group centers itself around the goal of raising awareness about suicide risks, warning signs and treatment resources within their communities. Members of the project also provide training for health and mental health staff, as well as gatekeeper training for anyone interested.

According to Jim Gouveia, a licensed clinical social worker and a counselor at CAPS, the purpose of gatekeeper trainings is to educate people to be aware of the signs and symptoms of suicide, how to ask the question, “Have you thought about suicide?” and how to get mental health help and assistance for those in need.

At OSU specifically, various organizations and community members, including the Pride Center and Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, have formed a suicide prevention work group that implements gatekeeper trainings on the OSU campus.

On May 16, Gouveia, who has been leading these trainings for six years, hosted a session in the Memorial Union, open to all community members.

“Have the conversation when you see that people are depressed or stressed out, like ‘Okay let’s talk about depression and stress. What are you doing about it?’” Gouveia said. “It’s making the conversation less weird and making it more normal. Then we can have these conversations in a way that feels comfortable.”

To help change the conversation around mental health, on May 4, the Associated Students of OSU, CAPS and Active Minds hosted the ‘Send Silence Packing’ event from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the MU Quad. During the event, over 1,000 donated backpacks were displayed on the grass representing the number of college students’ lives claimed each year by suicide, according to the event’s Facebook page.

According to Gouveia, the full effects that suicide has on others is often overlooked.

“I know that suicide seems like a plausible strategy for folks when they’re really depressed, but what they don’t understand is the ripple effect of suicide, that it’s not only the people you know, but it’s the whole community and sometimes the whole state,” Gouveia said. “You stand and read a story and you start crying and you don’t even know the person. There’s no connection at all, but that’s how far it ripples. It ripples into people that you don’t even know.”

For individuals seeking or in need of mental health help and assistance, CAPS, located on the fifth floor of Snell Hall, offers various resources and programs for all students.

According to Stephanie Shippen, a licensed psychologist at CAPS, because mental health is a part of general health and wellbeing, mental health support can likely be helpful for every individual.

“Being a human is hard sometimes and to seek out support and to seek out mental health care is not an unusual thing to do,” Shippen said. “I think most people benefit from it.”

For Tianna Coburn, an OSU freshman studying chemical engineering, CAPS has played a role in coping with her depression.

Going to CAPS helped her express her emotions about her depression for the first time, according to Coburn.

“I don’t want to, for a lack of better term, shove it into people’s faces, but I knew I wouldn’t be shoving it into people’s faces there,” Coburn said. “It created this really comfortable atmosphere for me to practice talking about my emotions and stuff like that. I’m still uncomfortable with it, but I do think it helped serve as an outlet.”

According to Shippen, she aims to communicate to new clients that she understands the first experience with counseling can feel different and intimidating.

“I think that once people get going in counseling they realize that it’s maybe not as scary as they thought it would be, that there’s maybe something enjoyable about coming in and talking about what’s going on for you and getting support from someone who’s not directly involved in your day-to-day life can feel really good,” Shippen said. “Usually the hardest step is just getting yourself in the door.”

Mental health help and assistance is sought out for a number of different reasons, according to Shippen.“Just because you seek out help and support doesn’t mean something is wrong,” Shippen said. “It just means that you could use a little more support or could use someone to help you think through some different options you might have.”

Regardless of why an individual seeks out mental health help or support, it is important for individuals to open up about mental health issues that they deal with, according to Coburn.

 “If you keep everything pent up, you might think that you can keep it hidden and ignore it, but eventually it’s just going to surface and if you keep it hidden for a long time, it’s eventually going to emerge as a bigger monster than it originally was,” Coburn said.

According to Gouveia, he recognizes that there are barriers individuals face regarding their personal mental health and seeking mental health assistance.

“I think there is a lot of stigma around mental illness and I think it stops people from getting help when they really need help,” Gouveia said. “I really think the awareness part is to say like your leg, like your liver, like your heart, your brain is still a part of you and you can’t be embarrassed about having an ailment in your brain.”

By spreading awareness about mental health, individuals who are in need of mental health help and assistance can get that help, according to Gouveia. Awareness on the topic also encourages individuals to think about maintaining proper mental health as a whole.

“It’s not only about mental illness, but what do you do to take care of yourself?” Gouveia said. “You’re going to eat right and exercise and do things that keep your body healthy. How do you keep your brain healthy? How do you keep your spirit positive? I think that’s the other part about Mental Health Awareness Month is how do you do that?”

CAPS is open and available to all fee-paying students. It is located on the fifth floor of Snell Hall and is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Students can contact a counselor after hours by calling the CAPS number 541-737-2131.

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