By Tatyanna Carman
Between 2015 and 2018, there were a total of three suicide attempts and seven mental health related cases at Rider University, based on a computer-assisted reporting class database of reports from the Lawrence Township Police Department.
Within the years 2017 and 2018, there were three reports of mental health cases and one suicide attempt at Rider. The suicide attempt in 2017 involved a student who cut herself in a dean’s office in the Bart Luedeke Center, according to the police reports.
Although the numbers seem small, Rider provides several mental health-related services for its students, such as the counseling center. It hosts, for instance, Color and Conversation, Pet Pause and Mindful Hour. Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Cindy Threatt said that although the Pet Pause events are popular, students also believe that other counseling events are helpful and increase their well-being, sense of belonging and self-awareness.
Threatt also said that in the beginning of spring 2019, Rider teamed with the Jed Foundation (JED) to become a JED campus. According to Threatt, JED is a program “designed to guide schools through a collaborative process of comprehensive systems, program and policy development with customized support to build upon existing student mental health, substance use and suicide prevention efforts.”
The program is set to be a four year relationship and Rider has already formed its campus team with 19 staff, faculty and students.
“I believe Rider has an excellent handle on providing students with a comfortable environment to voice their opinions, attitudes and beliefs without feeling intimidated or embarrassed of who they are,” said junior communication studies major Elizabeth Curcio. “They also have a great on-campus therapy center that every student should attend at least once.”
However, some students have a few constructive criticisms about Rider’s practices on tackling mental health. Junior political science major Aileen Merino said, “I believe with all the activities that are going on, usually around midterms and finals with the therapeutic dogs coming over to all their Stomp Out Stigma events, I feel like they’re making an attempt. I’m just not sure if it’s really being executed, where people actually come out to these events.”
Merino explained that students unwillingness to talk about their feelings based on stigmas is a factor. This was echoed by freshman communication studies major Rikiyah Mixson.
“I would describe the conversations and methods among Rider students involving mental health as something that is not really acknowledged as much as it should be,” Mixson said. “Many students talk about how stressed or anxious they are about school or life in general but never really pinpoint the focus on the well being of their mental health. Given, there are many students who are vocal about this issue and hold events to raise awareness, I feel as though I have not seen it from students as much.”
Despite the increasing conversation amongst young people about mental health, there is a new problem arising: people overusing mental health terms. Merino said hearing students misuse mental illness like depression, anxiety and OCD makes her uncomfortable. She also touched on a deeper cause in the rift of conversation and expressed a need for minority perspectives on the topic.
“I’m a Hispanic, non-religious female and you have people that are Hispanic, that are religious and gay,” said Merino. “Can we really talk about things that affect us? Of course there are going to be similarities but at the same time, there are going to be large differences, where we can’t really discuss it on that term. And that’s only one part, but when you’re talking to a person who identifies as white, heterosexual and protestant, we can’t talk about that.”
Although students have different opinions concerning Rider’s steps toward improving mental health, all three students said that Rider was, at least, setting up a foundation for conversation. Prevention Education Coordinator Susan Stahley could not be reached for comment.
“Mental health is an important part of our society and it should be welcomed by everyone and everything,” said Curcio. “If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask for it. It’s your life, not anyone else’s. Do what’s right for you.”
Readers who are experiencing suicidal thoughts are encouraged to seek help, call 1-800-273-8255.