California State University, Long Beach
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Project OCEAN Helps Campus Focus On Mental Health Issues

Published: November 1, 2012

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Faculty, staff and students at CSULB can learn how to recognize warning signs and intervene with individuals at risk of suicide by enrolling in a free training session offered by Project OCEAN (On Campus Emergency Assistance Network), according to project coordinator Jennifer Young.

“The ultimate goal is to help students struggling with mental health issues understand that it is ok to not feel ok,” she said.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death across college campuses nationwide. Suicide awareness and prevention training has returned to CSULB through the California Mental Health Services Act (CalMHSA) – a state funded grant that resulted after voters approved Proposition 63. The CalMHSA grant provides funding to mental health programs and will run through 2014. Initially funded through a three-year federal grant (2008-11), Project OCEAN was not offered during the 2011-12 academic year.

This semester, Project OCEAN has provided suicide prevention training using QPR (Question-Persuade-Refer). “Just as people who are trained in CPR help individuals stay alive until medical professionals arrive on site, people trained in QPR will be able to recognize warning signs of individuals at risk for suicide and support them by connecting them with mental health professionals,” said Young, a counselor at CSULB’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) since 2011.

Any faculty or staff member as well as students who want to attend a training session should contact the assistant project coordinator of Project OCEAN, Jane Duong. Duong, a CSULB alumnus and current graduate student, was integrally involved with the successful development of Project OCEAN.

This project is hosting an essay writing contest titled “Express Yourself” that offers a grand prize of a $300 CSULB Bookstore gift card as well as two runner-up prizes of $100 CSULB Bookstore Gift Cards. Entries are due by Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 5 p.m.

“We are looking for students to share a true story of how she or he overcame a challenging time or event in her or his life,” said Young. “We need original, thoughtful and provocative student voices to respond and expand on questions such as what was the challenge, how was it dealt with, what personal strengths helped overcome the crisis, what was learned and what personal advice can be shared.”

Essays must be emailed with personal information to Jennifer Young, with “Express Yourself Essay Contest” in the subject line. Winners will be contacted and announced on Friday, Nov. 30 on the Project OCEAN website and the Project OCEAN Facebook page.

“Any number of factors such as depression, anxiety and distress resulting from life events and transitions can contribute to someone having thoughts of hurting themselves,” said Young. According to the American Psychological Association, one in four college students is on medication for mental health conditions, and more students are arriving on campus with pre-existing conditions than they were 10 years ago.

This second wave of Project OCEAN focuses on often overlooked, but equally serious mental health concerns, according to Young. “Suicide is a common emergency and one of the major ones, but there is also substance abuse and severe eating disorders so we’re training our graduate peer educators on providing training to the campus in how to intervene in those situations as well.”

Young believes a continuing awareness of suicide prevention is a must for the CSULB community. “There are many urgent mental health crises that can occur among college students,” she said. “It is important for students, faculty and staff to learn what to look for.”

The training sessions will explore five areas: psychosis, eating disorders, substance abuse, anxiety and depression. “What can be done if someone suffers a panic attack?” she asked “Maybe a student battles an eating disorder that has friends and faculty members concerned. We are also worried about depression with its potential for self-injury. Substance abuse emergencies include identifying when someone may have alcohol poisoning. We want to educate the campus community about what to look for.”

A typical event was held on campus Oct. 9 when “Check Yourself” took place featuring wellness screenings, healthy coping skills, health education physical fitness, music, fun and interactive routines to de-stress, Zumba, make-your-own-button and stress ball, bubble wrap popping, finger painting and picture taking.

Young encourages faculty, staff and students to participate in the training sessions in the spring of 2013.

“Projects like these demonstrate CAPS’ focus on preventive work,” Young explained. “We want to increase the awareness of all various types of mental health concerns and fun coping strategies to engage in to increase our overall mental wellness. We are working hard to remove the stigma from mental health and mental illness. As people, we are all susceptible to stress when dealing with life’s challenges.”

Young hopes this commitment to mental health is here to stay at CSULB.

“These training sessions are akin to training sessions in CPR. It is another life-saving technique,” she said. “Information is always helpful. When you encounter a crisis, it is better to know what to do than not know. When you have the information, you feel prepared. You’ll know what to do when faced with a mental health crisis.”

–Richard Manly