Bill grants suicide funds

In light of the recent suicides on college campuses, Congress passed a bill earlier this month granting $82 million over three years to fund suicide prevention programs for community centers and universities.

The passage of the bill raises awareness about a topic that is all too familiar at GW. On Sept. 8, sophomore Susan Shin died after jumping from the eighth floor of her apartment building.

Diane DePalma, who heads the University Counseling Center, said if her department is able to access the funding, she would like to enhance after-hours crisis services and invest in peer educational programs. She also said that instead of creating their own pamphlets and fliers, the center would like to purchase professional materials about mental health for distribution.

The counseling center’s Web site could also be improved to further help students, and information for families coping with mental health issues would be made readily available.

The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act is the work of Tennessee Rep. Bart Gordon (D) and is named for the son of Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), whose son committed suicide last year.

Of the $82 million allocated in the bill, $22 million would be set aside specifically for the purpose of assisting suicide programs at institutions of higher learning, said Dana Lichtenberg, a legislative assistant in Gordon’s office.

She said Gordon became interested in the bill because of the suicide of a young man living in his district. The funding will be available for use at both public and private universities. Lichtenberg said as soon as the money is appropriated and the grant size is set, money will be available in 2005.

Funding can be used for mental health services, community outreach, counseling, hotlines and training of counseling staff. Lichtenberg specified that the bill’s funds are not intended to substitute services that are already provided; the bill was passed to encourage the introduction of mental health services.

The bill passed in the House of Representatives by a 352-64 margin and unanimously passed in the Senate shortly after.

Those who voted against the bill suggested it would allow the government to intervene in family matters and create costly entitlements.

The National Mental Health Association said that one in 12 college students considers suicide and more young adults die from suicide than all other forms of mental illness combined. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college-age students, according to the Jed Foundation, which is named after a University of Arizona student who killed himself.

GW is also taking measures of its own to curb suicide rates in its own community. Shin’s death marked the third suicide among GW students since December. As a result of the suicides, counseling center officials said they are developing outreach programs, including a new peer education program called GW Cares.

DePalma said training programs and greater community contact will be a major goal for the counseling center. With more money, she added, more of her staff’s time could be made available and the counseling center would be able to reach a variety of GW departments.

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