OSU gets two grants for suicide prevention — (The Columbus Dispatch)

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The Columbus Dispatch

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Encarnacion Pyle

Megan Wilson struggled for years with the frightening mood swings ­ manic highs and unbearable lows ­ of bipolar disorder.

She started seeing a counselor and taking an antidepressant, but Wilson still couldn’t see past the loneliness, helplessness and pain that were part of her daily struggle.

She killed herself four months before she was to graduate from Ohio State University in 2002. She was 23.

“We always knew this was a possibility,” said her father, Phillip Wilson, 66, of New Albany. “But we thought we had beaten this monster.

“My daughter died of a disease as surely as if she would have died of cancer.”

OSU has been awarded two federal grants, totaling nearly $1.5 million over the next three years, to prevent other students who are college-age or younger from dying senselessly.

“Suicides are highly preventable,” said Darcy Haag Granello, an associate professor of counselor education who will receive $225,000 to improve services for OSU students at risk for suicide. “People don’t want to die; they only want the pain to go away.”

That grant will help Ohio State and more than 30 partners train dorm staff members, professors and graduate assistants to identify students at risk and teach students where to get help.

Granello’s husband and fellow OSU associate professor, Paul Granello, will oversee the other $1.2 million grant, which will be used to help suicide prevention programs statewide provide early intervention, screening and treatment of youngsters ages 11 to 18.

Ohio State’s programs are part of a larger, statewide effort to shine a light on a problem that takes a particular toll on young people. The suicide rate for people ages 15 to 24 has tripled since 1952. And suicide remains the second-leading cause of death among college students.

“Since the war in Iraq started, we’ve lost as many people to suicide in Ohio as men and women of the service. But you don’t hear about those deaths,” said Michael Hogan, director of the state Department of Mental Health.

Nationwide, someone dies by suicide every 17 minutes. Ohio averages three suicides a day.

Research shows that nearly 1 percent of OSU students attempt suicide each year and 7.5 percent have seriously considered it, said Louise Douce, the university’s director of counseling and consultation services. “Being in college by definition means you’re in transition,” Douce said. “And when you’re in transition, you’re redefining or trying to create the direction of your life. There’s a lot of anxiety and depression that can creep up when a person’s being pushed to succeed.”

People can recover from depression and other mental illnesses when treated, but recognizing the symptoms and getting people to seek treatment can be difficult, Douce said. That’s why the college has been conducting confidential mental-health screenings for years.

“One of the biggest myths out there is if you talk about suicide you’ll encourage youths to commit suicide,” said Haag Granello.

The Granellos recently wrote a book to teach counselors and school officials how to intervene with students who are overwhelmed by heavy workloads, homesickness, poor grades or relationship problems.

Through the grant awarded to Paul Granello, students in middle and high school will be assessed through one of two computerized surveys that ask whether they are anxious, use drugs or have thought about killing themselves. Parents must give consent before their children are tested.

Granello knows the pain of losing a loved one. His brother, Leon, hanged himself in a state mental hospital in Florida in 1999.

“There’s a lot of ‘collateral damage’ associated with suicide,” he said. “For every suicide, it’s estimated that six people are profoundly affected. Many survivors live with feelings of guilt and shame the rest of their lives.”

Wilson talks to the community about his daughter’s death as a spokesman for the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation.

“People need to rid themselves of the stigma, see the signs and intervene,” he said. “Whenever I’m speaking about suicide, it’s like Meg is standing right behind me.”

North Central Mental Health Center runs a 24-hour suicide hot line at 614-221-5445.

epyle@dispatch.com