BY JESSICA WILLNER
SC Contributing Writer
A New Jersey native and University of Pennsylvania track star jumped to her death off a Philly parking garage on Friday, January 17. According to her father, she jumped because of stress.
Madison Holleran, 19, showed a sudden change in character, losing confidence in her academic and athletic abilities and expressing suicidal thoughts to her family.
“For a person to consider suicide as a solution to their pain, it has to be a perfect storm,” said Dr. Donna Leitner, Associate Professor and Licensed Psychologist at ESU’s Counseling and Psychological Services. She received her Master’s degree from UPenn.
According to ESPN, “Mental health remains at its core a personal and stigmatized issue.”
According to the Ask, Listen, Refer, East Stroudsburg University Suicide Prevention Training Program, 694 ESU students thought about suicide in the past year. This reflects national averages.
The Ask, Listen, Refer East Stroudsburg University Suicide Prevention Training Program is an online course that teaches students suicide risk factors, warning signs, and protective factors that could help save a life.
Students and faculty may visit the website at http://www.asklistenrefer.org/esu/login to participate in the free, confidential program.
College students are also at the age when the first signs of mental illness show, according to Dr. Linda L. Van Meter, Assistant Professor, Licensed Psychologist, and Chair of Counseling and Psychological Services at ESU’s Counseling and Psychological Services.
“There is no doubt that athletes have more non-negotiable time commitments, including those for travel and practice, on top of their education,” says Leitner.
Dr. Van Meter commented on Holleran’s suicide, saying that the balance and adjustments to college can create great pressure in a competitive academic and athletic career.
The difficulty of balancing academics and athletics are high, and scholarships add increased pressure to student-athletes. However, Dr. Leitner says that the NCAA has created a waiver for athletes to be able to continue their sports and not lose their scholarships, despite time off for mental illness.
ESU’s Ask, Listen, Refer Suicide Prevention Training program provides a list of risk factors and warning signs, including thoughts, emotions and behaviors.
Some of these signs include having suicidal thoughts, rigid thinking, hopelessness, excessive sadness or crying, messy appearance, pulling away from socialization, increase in alcohol or drug use, giving away belongings, and impulsive behavior.
The program also lists risk factors by culture, including a higher risk of anxiety among African Americans, PTSD and substance abuse among returning veterans, and physical symptoms among Asian and Asian American students.
Suicide can be triggered by severely stressful or life-altering events, or by personal and identity issues.
Student athletes often see their mental health issues as character flaws and fail to seek help, according to Dr. Van Meter.
ESU’s CAPS is home to four psychologists who were all athletes and understand the unique pressures that student-athletes face.
Dr. Leitner understands student-athlete stress both personally and from the viewpoint as a collegiate coach at Dickinson, Lehigh, and Moravian.
Dr. Van Meter says that an important step for suicide prevention is educating coaches and athletic trainers about mental illnesses.
She says that ESU’s coaches and trainers are very proactive and nonjudgmental, but also that what a coach sees as overtraining, counselors may see as depression. Awareness is important so that athletes can receive early intervention.
An important aspect of treatment for student-athletes does not involve them leaving their sports, but rather helping them to find new options to cope with their mental illnesses. Counselors will evaluate and refer students to doctors and help them find solutions.
At CAPS, psychologists highlight that current situations and feelings are always temporary, and explore options to get students who are trapped in their own spiraling thoughts to a better state of mind.
If you or someone you know is showing warning signs, refer them to CAPS for counseling for a wide variety of services, including adjustment to college life, suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, disordered eating, relationship issues, sexual orientation, low self-esteem, and more.
Counseling at ESU is free and confidential and students can be seen on an emergency basis or regularly by appointment. Psychologists from CAPS also speak to teams and classes at ESU about mental health.
For more information about Ask, Listen, Refer, or to speak with a counselor, call Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at (570) 422-3277 or visit the office in the Flagler/Metzgar building.
Outside of business hours, call University Police at (570) 422-3064 or (570) 422-2000.
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