Letter prompts look into PSUC suicide procedure
Published: Thursday, May 10, 2012
Updated: Thursday, May 10, 2012 21:05
Suicide patients deserve concerns, as well as commands, Plattsburgh State student Amy Greenberg said.
In a letter to the editor published in Cardinal Points May 4, Greenberg called for a change in the tone of the letters sent by PSUC to students deemed suicidal. Having experienced suicide treatment herself, Greenberg said the letters are too harsh when combined with the disruptive nature of the treatment and hopes to use her own experience to help change PSUC policy.
On the night of Feb. 5, Greenberg was woken in her off-campus home by a call from University Police. A concerned friend, believing Greenberg to be suicidal, had informed a resident assistant who then contacted Plattsburgh City Police.
Greenberg was instructed by police to seek treatment at the CVPH Medical Center. With no psychological evaluation staff available during the night, Greenberg was admitted to CVPH only to wait until the next morning when she could be assessed.
While Greenberg said she does not believe she required treatment that night, she was concerned for more sensitive students who go through the same procedure only to return to campus and find the same letter that Greenberg received Feb. 8.
The letter was one of the first steps in the official PSUC response to a report of a suicidal student, Dean of Students Stephen Matthews said. Upon responding to the case of a suicidal student, local law enforcement agencies inform Matthews of the incident. A letter is then prepared to invite the student to meet with him.
In the letter, the date of the incident is listed and a proposed meeting time is given that students can change by calling Matthews’ office. A reminder is placed at the bottom of the letter to inform students that, should they miss the proposed or adjusted meeting time, they could be subject to judicial charges for failure to comply with the meeting request.
Matthews explained that the warning only was designed to encourage hesitant students to attend the meeting, not to punish students for their suicidal behavior.
The meetings do not fall under any student code of conduct policies.
“The first thing I cover when I interact with a student is I make sure they understand that they’re not in trouble because of this,” Matthews said.
At the meetings, Matthews speaks with students about their suicidal situation and makes an assessment on whether to place them into the Lifeline Suicide Prevention Program for further counseling through the Center for Student Health & Psychological Services. The program connects students with counselors and other forms of support.
Greenberg was placed in the program, and a second letter was sent to remind her of the importance of her cooperation and the potential for judicial charges should the treatment not be followed through with, as is standard procedure.
It is not the procedure of these letters that Greenberg felt should change. It is the language that Greenberg felt could show more concern for students in inviting them to participate.
“It’s really easy to approach people and get your point across without having to be threatening,” Greenberg said.
However, Matthews said the language is designed to sound urgent, to express the severity of the situation and to emphasize the importance of establishing an immediate deadline to discuss what else needs to be done for the student.
“I’m sorry if a student doesn’t see that as a warm hug in the initial letter. It honestly isn’t meant to be. It’s meant to get them in here so that we can chat about things and move on,” Matthews said.
Assistant Chief of the University Police Jerry Lottie agreed that a certain level of force may need to be applied by Matthews to encourage students to seek the treatment that they need.
“If we’ve identified somebody that we are concerned about, who we think we need to connect with services to ensure their safety, to ensure their experience at campus is full, then we need to do something to ensure that at least that person engages in the process, gets to that point,” Lottie said.
For PSUC student Maggie Edwards, a more indirect approach to addressing student mental health concerns seems more appropriate for reaching hesitant students.
“A good way they (PSUC) can address this is having those resources out for students, having programs where students are able to talk freely about suicide, about depression, about mental illnesses,” Edwards said.
Through her involvement with the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk committee and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Edwards has been involved with the organization of different support forums on campus.
These forums, Edwards said, have made students comfortable enough to approach her and discuss their conditions without the need for being confronted.
“I’ll just be walking in the ACC and they’re like, ‘Hey, are you Maggie? Can I talk to you for a second?’ So I think it’s extremely effective,” Edwards said.
Greenberg acknowledged that some students may still require more coaxing than others to address their problems. However, she worried that the letters risk discouraging students from seeking support through the Lifeline program.
“It was difficult and it really did make me reassess what I would do if my friend was in this situation because I don’t want them to get these letters, especially if they’re in a spot where they’re in danger,” Greenberg said.