In an effort to combat the tragedy of college student suicide, in 2007 a group of Student Services managers collaborated on a proposal for a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Thanks to their efforts, CSULB was one of 14 universities nationwide to be awarded a three-year Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant. In September 2008, Project OCEAN (On Campus Emergency Assistance Network) was born.
Knowing that the best way to combat the problem of suicide is to be proactive and teach the skills needed to keep students from ever getting to the point of feeling so hopeless that suicide is the only option, Project OCEAN strives to promote a campus climate that reduces the stigma of mental health issues and encourages students to seek help when needed. Statistics which highlight the need for this work include startling numbers: suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students; nearly 1,100 suicides are projected to occur on college campuses in 2010; and 18-24 year-olds think about suicide more often than any other age group. While the goal of reducing suicide at first might seem somewhat narrow, Project OCEAN’s approach to this issue is quite broad in scope. The aim is to encourage a climate of acceptance, hope and caring within the CSULB campus community.
Activities of Project OCEAN are designed to strengthen and fill gaps in existing campus services to expand the safety net for all students, and particularly for students vulnerable to suicidal ideation. Project OCEAN promotes access to these services by training faculty, staff and students in appropriate referral strategies. Using the three-step QPR training model—question, persuade and refer—anyone can learn to help save a life from suicide. Just as CPR and Heimlich maneuver training save thousands of lives each year, people trained in QPR learn to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade and refer someone to help. This training is available to CSULB students, faculty and staff groups and aims to expedite referrals to helping services and to create the expectation that help-seeking behavior is encouraged when it is needed.
Other Project OCEAN activities are directed toward promoting awareness and wellness, and reducing stigma around mental health issues. With support from several other university areas, Project OCEAN hosted a “Live Your Life” wellness fair in April that focused on healthy living.The fair set out to reduce stigma around all areas of difference that students may experience, including mental health issues,learning disabilities and physical disabilities. The fair presented information on exercise, relaxation, fun and nutrition, along with recreation demonstrations and a drumming circle. The event ended with an inspirational presentation by Jesse Billauer, a former surfer who became paralyzed following a surfing accident at age 17. Billauer went on to establish Life Rolls On, a surfing foundation that works to motivate individuals tolive life with passion regardless of obstacles.
As Project OCEAN enters its third year, the advisory committee, along with Principal Investigator David Sanfilippo, Disabled Student Services, and Project Director Brad Compliment, CAPS, remains committed to implementing programs and developing policies that will promote mental well-being and prevent suicide from occurring within the CSULB campus community.
To find out more about Project OCEAN or to request services, go to www.csulb.edu/ocean or call (562) 985-4001.