Parishi Gandhi, an intern with the Ohio State University Suicide Prevention Program talks to students in underserved communities about stigmas and mental health resources available to them.
Buckeyes Speak Up
By Elizabeth Drucker
I came to my graduate program in public health with one firm objective weighing heavily on my
mind: I wanted to pursue a career in college student mental health. I have also earned a prior
master’s degree in Higher Education but felt like I needed more training in how to make a
difference in student mental health promotion and suicide prevention. Many of my master’s level
classes allowed me to see differing perspectives of mental health in student populations and how
I might be able to contribute to this field.
ITo graduate from my MPH program at Northern Illinois University, students are required to
complete a graduate level public health internship. At the beginning, I had some ideas of what I
wanted to do, but I had no idea how to accomplish all of my objectives. I had learned all sorts of
public health strategies over the course of the two-year program. I studied the basics of public
health through my core classes such as epidemiology, health management and policy, and
environmental health. And once I entered the final year of my program, I focused on classes in
my health promotion concentration. I learned how to devise health communication strategies and
to use social media effectively to deliver a particular public health message.
IAnd then, with one semester left, it was time to search for my internship. With the COVID-19
pandemic, everything was chaotic and uncertain. While the world seemed to shut down, as we
were required to spend the majority of our time landlocked in our homes, the choices seemed
better on the internship front. In seeking my internship, I could include potential agencies all
over the country—and the world. Just knowing that I could work on something I am so
passionate about—college mental health and suicide—empowered me even more.
II contacted the OSU Suicide Prevention Program with this goal in mind. I had some ideas but
had never built an internship before. I worked this out with the Assistant Director of the OSU
SPP (Laura Lewis). Through the winter and spring, we met to discuss our hopes about what this
internship could do on both ends. We eventually agreed that I would focus on how to provide outreach, information, and advocacy for the parents and families of students who attend Ohio
IAs a student with a mental illness, I had a lot of ideas. I brainstormed about all the things I
wished my parents had known before and during my time in college and graduate school. During
most weeks of my internship, I had Zoom staff meetings with the talented summer crew
dedicated to keeping the program running. I have never had the opportunity to work as a team
before and as I clicked off of the Zoom chats each Wednesday afternoon, I left with a sense that
great things were being done here. The undergraduate students working on our team were
articulate and creative and amazing in so many ways. They listened to me present my first major
summer project: a literature review detailing the current research on how we can best reach the
parents and families of young adults with mental illness and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
After I clicked through my powerpoint presentation, they offered many other ideas that I had
never even considered.
IBut my supervisor, Laura Lewis, was truly amazing. Together, we built this internship from
nothing. She facilitated meetings with other OSU administrators and helped me see the larger
picture of how my summer projects would be able to help other student affairs professionals, and
of course, all the students attending The Ohio State University. She was always available and
ready to teach me things about suicide that even as a student with bipolar disorder, I had never
known before. She singlehandedly helped me see the strategies that are most effective to reach
parents in suicide prevention. In our one-on-one meetings, we talked about mental health and
suicide in college students. She gave me a sneak peek of what is being done in this endeavor on
the OSU campus.
II have to say that Ohio State is unique in its unyielding devotion to promoting the mental health
of all students attending this very large public school. In similar institutions, there is a tendency
to get lost in the crowd, in large lecture halls, and that transition into the campus residence halls.
During my time at Ohio State this summer, I have learned that this school is different. I met one
dedicated administrator after another. And as I mentioned earlier, the students are just as
motivated to make their world a better place for themselves and their fellow students. From
working at Ohio State, I can tell that each student is important to the administrators. They make
every effort to reach the students, wherever they are at. I am so grateful that I was able to be a
part of that this summer.
I will take a lot of lessons with me. Despite being a “virtual” internship, I found a great deal of
collegial companionship with the people I worked with, both students and staff. I know that
whatever my professional future holds, I will be able to use the skills I learned during this
internship. I now know that there is great potential for improving college student mental health. I
was stretched in so many directions over the summer and I was able to see how my previous
education may be helpful in promoting college student health and preventing suicide. I had never
really had the opportunity to focus on what is going through the heads of parents as they work
tirelessly to promote student mental health. With this new perspective, I will be able to be more
effective in my role of improving mental health.
OSUSPP Interviewee: Sarah Clapp, MC, LPC.
PROS Interviewer: Tori Abell
Sarah is a Graduate Administrative Assistant with RUOK? Buckeyes within the OSU Suicide Prevention Program. RUOK? Buckeyes is an online survey questionnaire to advocate for graduate and professional students by providing resources and assistance.
Tori: To begin, can you describe the work that you do with RUOK? Buckeyes and OSUSPP? What is your background story and how did you get involved?
Sarah: This is my third year working with OSUSPP in my role with RUOK? Buckeyes. I am a PhD candidate in the Counselor Education Program and was brought into OSU Suicide Prevention Program my first year here, as a graduate assistant. With RUOK? Buckeyes, we partner with graduate and professional programs on campus because graduate professional students are at an elevated risk for suicidality. I partner with these programs to roll out, RUOK? Buckeyes, which is an evidence-based interactive screening program that we use in partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It is an online stress and depression questionnaire that students can voluntarily take, and it is anonymous and confidential. They connect with me online when they take a survey, and I am a licensed professional counselor, so I have some expertise and knowledge in these areas. Students get a personalized response from me, and then they have the option to dialogue with me online, meaning exchanging messages through the platform to learn about all the resources that can assist them with their concerns. It is not always relegated to mental health; yes, I recommend counseling consultation services a lot, but there’s also other services on campus students aren’t aware of, and I try to be holistic in how I recommend resources. So, I might also recommend the Dennis Learning Center for academic coaching or the Student Wellness Center for wellness coaching, or financial coaching at Scarlett and Grey Financial. There’s a lot of different resources on campus that can assist graduate students with the stress of that they’re experiencing, hopefully allowing them to feel more comfortable as students at OSU.
Tori: Can I ask, how you got passionate about this topic, and why you’re interested in helping graduate students in particular?
Sarah: I think because it hits close to home, like I am a graduate student, and I am going to my sixth year. Yeah, so I have a master’s degree and that was two years, and this is my third year of my PhD and hopefully I’ll be able to finish my PhD next year. So, initially, my background was in mental health. I have a master’s in clinical mental health counseling from Arizona State University, and there I worked closely with the counseling center there to do Suicide Prevention initiatives. So, it felt natural for me to then enter a role at OSU doing a very similar thing. For example, we had our own version of the REACH training basically at ASU, so I had some experience with that. I think being a graduate student myself, gives me a lot of empathy and a lot of contextualized experience when working with RUOK? Buckeyes. I have also taken a lot of feminist theory classes and critical theory classes, so I have really gotten into critiquing the system and the overall institution of academia, as far as how graduate students are situated and the stressors that they deal with, as well as how institutions provide for their graduate students. So, I really got interested starting with looking at my own situatedness but then looking to other graduate and professional students around me, and it’s evolved into a dissertation on graduate student mental health and Suicide Prevention support. It honestly felt like a natural “A, B, C, D” in terms of my own personal journey.
Tori: Great! So, how does your work with RUOK? Buckeyes tie into community wellness mental health of suicide prevention specifically on our campus?
Sarah: Well, Suicide is a recognized public health issue. With public health issues, those are issues that are systemic in nature. They are not isolated in a vacuum and they are not individualized. So, when I think of Suicide Prevention, it is way more than someone having a depression diagnosis and feeling suicidal right? That person exists within a series of nested systems that can either provide support, or stressors and challenges. So, thinking about suicide as a problem is to also recognize that something like affordable housing, food stamps and disability services are all resources of suicide prevention. Suicide Prevention is comprehensive, anything that can take stressors out of somebody’s life. And when I think about our institution Ohio State, it is way more than an individual problem in an individual student. It’s a culture within an institution. Is that culture supportive of people seeking help? Or does it contribute to the perpetuation of stigma which is one of the biggest barriers to somebody going into a counseling office and talking with someone. I think that the Suicide Prevention Program, better than any other program that I’ve seen on other campuses, does so much work to spearhead that conversation, and we know that the more we talk about suicide prevention and what that is, it reduces the fear that people have towards that topic and makes people more likely to talk about it and engaged in conversations. When that happens, stigma is reduced, and people do feel like they can get support. So, it is campus wide, and community wide, institution wide, statewide, and nationwide. We must think about Suicide Prevention as existing within all these systems, and really critiquing the culture and the climate of those systems to see if they are conducive to someone accessing help or if they present insurmountable barriers. So, I am proud to be a part of OSUSPP, because of all the REACH training and REACH OUT sessions along with all of the advocacy that we do to reduce the stigma on our campus and make everyone aware that this is a campus responsibility.
Tori: Right, a campus culture of care. As a broad statement, what does this mean to you?
Sarah: I think it is a culture that actively works to reduce stigma and actively communicates to the actors within the system and culture that resources are available. Specifically for suicide, there are other options. You don’t have to kill yourself, there are ways that we can help you get through this crisis that you are in right now and it does not have to end in death. I think of a campus culture of care being active and not a passive culture. It is not a culture where you just kind of move through and you do your own thing and live in your own world, but you’re an active participant in the community and you’re not afraid to take the risk of engaging in a difficult conversation, like talking to someone that you’re worried about who maybe you’re noticing some red flags and warning signs in. You’re willing to take the risk, be uncomfortable, have hard conversations, and then really engage in advocacy by doing your part to be an active participant in your culture to reduce stigma and make people aware of all the resources in their environment that can support them.
Tori: As we know, graduate students are an at-risk population partially due to factors of isolation. I am curious to hear your perspective on how graduate and professional students are this year, given that COVID has perpetuated isolation as an even larger factor than it was prior.
Sarah: Sure, so my perspective on it, which is not research based but my perspective, is that graduate school in general, in the best of years, can already be a very isolating experience. When you’re in graduate school, it can really take over your life with internship hours, research credits, publishing and writing articles, and all these very difficult tasks that you must do in order to complete graduate school. Getting through a graduate degree is highly stressful. Graduate students and professional students can often feel isolated from their family, peers, friends, and spouses who are not in graduate school or familiar with this particular experience. So, there are these sacrifices that must be made between your academic and personal life that is in constant flux. As far as covid, I mean, Graduate school – already a very isolating experience – and then you add a global pandemic on top of that, so now you’re even physically isolated and it’s like a double jeopardy on that isolation. Especially for graduate students who are out of state, many of whom have not seen their families in over a year. So, a lot of students can’t go home or want to wait until they are vaccinated and do the responsible thing to wait to travel. In RUOK? Buckeyes, after responding to 400+ surveys of students this year, isolation has been a consistent theme. I am hearing a lot of students who know they are doing the right and responsible thing by not leaving my house, but who say they are so lonely and have no idea what to do with all this isolation.
Tori: How can fellow buckeyes get connected to RUOK? Buckeyes?
Sarah: The way that students get access to the survey, is that their program has to partner with us because there is a special invitation with a special link that we give to each program who opts in. There are typically two graduate assistants that work with RUOK? Buckeyes and that is me and Mark Hamilton right now. I am in charge of the original programs, so I work to facilitate roll-outs with programs who have already partner with us and are established. Mark reaches out to new programs to seek new partnership opportunities. We do advocacy at different student events when the campus was open, where we could go do tabling events to talk with students, staff, and faculty. We do a lot of grassroots connection, where we inform the students and encourage them to talk to the people in their program who can help them get connected to us and facilitate this program. It is quite the community effort, we rely on folks who help advocate for us and be our ambassadors, but also finding those spaces within the university where we can go advocate for ourselves and let people know that this is a thing, and we would love your graduate program to be involved. We highly encourage students to ask their program about us and if they could partner with us or reach out to me or Mark and we will do the legwork for them!
To learn more about RUOK? Buckeyes, click here, or send an email to email@example.com.
Interviewer: Please describe the work that you do with the Suicide Prevention Program.
Nadia Musleh: I am the REACH program coordinator for OSU SPP, so in a lot of ways my role and my mission are similar to PROs, however mine is a full-time position and I also handle a lot of other administrative pieces. I am heavily involved with the education pieces and facilitating both REACH trainings and REACH out sessions. I also schedule all of those sessions and work to market them so that new and returning people on campus are encouraged to participate. Based on the needs of the office I also help with the Out Of the Darkness walk, social media platforms, and website development, depending on the time of the year.
Interviewer: Wow that is amazing work! REACH Out was new this year, can you talk a little more about that?
Nadia Musleh: REACH Out is definitely new and we created it in response to not being able to do REACH trainings. Because of Covid and all of the associated restrictions, we could not offer them at all and could not even schedule them for the future trainings. We also really understood that that did not mean that our campus should stop learning about suicide prevention. The directors were trying to find a way to get information into the hands of people, while also doing it safely, and so the compromise was to do an education and advocacy session that teaches people about suicide prevention and some education pieces without the skills- based components. So that we are able to follow national standards and best practices. I had a huge role, but the content was mostly created by Laura Lewis and Dr. Darcy Granello. My job was related to the administrative pieices, and the technology side, so how to request the session and how to deliver them via zoom. I am glad that this option is now available and we don’t see it going away.
Interviewer: It is an excellent program and I’m really glad to hear that they are going to be continuing it even after in person trainings get a little bit more frequent.
Interviewer: How did you get involved with OSUSPP?
Nadia Musleh: I got involved with Suicide Prevention and the Suicide Prevention programs specifically during my end of my sophomore year of undergrad. I actually got involved with pros and I was a part of that organization for two years. During my time with pros I also interned and worked for Suicide Prevention program. I’ve always had a real passion for people and wanting people to be well as a child, adolescent, and early adult. I’ve always been really empathetic, and I’ve always cared for people deeply. Because I know what it’s like to struggle with mental health and because I’ve seen other people struggle with their own battles and mental illnesses, I have always wanted to make other’s journeys easier, to make them happier, to bring them piece, and to help them become their best selves. I did not always know what that would look like, but in the position that I am in now, I am part of saving lives by helping t educate people and by decreases stigma.
Interviewer: Thank you for sharing, I did not know you were a PRO, so that is really interesting!
Nadia Musleh: Yeah, being a pro was one of the highlights of my undergraduate career. Still to this day, years later, when people ask me what was unique about my experience, PROs is at the top of the list.
Interviewer: Where do you find hope and healing in your work?
Nadia Musleh: I find hope and healing in so many different things. I feel that strongly after I give a session or a training and someone shares something with me about their personal experiences and changes that they have seen for the better. I also find hope when I notice how our campus and the people are changing the way they talk about mental health and suicide, or when I see that so many people have attended a session or are interested.
Interviewer: What does a campus culture of care mean to you?
Nadia Musleh: There are a couple things. It starts with the support for each other, the idea that I care for you even if I do not know you personally. It also has a lot to do with reducing stigma, you could care for people and still perpetuate stigma, because it is so ingrained into our day to day lives, so education is really important. We are consciously working to debunk myths and have open and honest conversations. Finally, I think there is room in the campus culture of care to take care of yourself. We should show ourselves the grace and care that we show for others.
Interviewer: Thank you, I agree that personally wellness can often be overlooked, especially if you dedicate your life to helping other people, but it really matters.
Interviewer: What is a campus resource that you would recommend to others?
Nadia Musleh: Wellness coaching. With the wellness coaching they focus on dimensions of wellness, such as physical, emotional, mental, and financial. You can meet with a peer to set goals and they help hold you accountable. You can make appointments virtually. It is not counselling; however, it is a great way to make progress on goals. I also think the office of diversity and inclusion is a great resource and I know that they have different opportunities and connections on campus. Given that I am a first-generation college student, and I sometimes did not feel at home at OSU, this office is really beneficial.
Hi everyone! My name is Abbey Campbell and I am a student in the Peers REACHing Out professional cohort here at Ohio State. I had the pleasure of interviewing OSUSPP Assistant Director Laura Lewis and would love to share the details!
Abbey: Laura, would you please describe some of the work you do here with the Suicide Prevention Program?
Laura: Sure! So I am the assistant director- so really my role is the day to day functioning and managing all of our staff. With prevention being in our lane, it is just making sure that we are at a table everywhere we can be here at Ohio State. This is so that we can educate, do outreach, and advocate for suicide prevention and reducing mental health stigma. So to that end, while I am supervising staff doing that, it’s also about creating the mission and furthering our program with new opportunities by connecting with leaders on and off of our campus. I also sit on a lot of committees, work on projects with others across the university, and we are also involved in research. A lot of that research is on the projects that we do because it is important to know that what we are doing is, in fact, doing what we think it is doing. Additionally, I am supervising REACH trainings and REACH Out sessions, our graduate assistants with their “R U OK Buckeyes?” program, and our student interns. So overall, it is a lot of management but with a lot of creativity and collaboration.
Abbey: Yeah! For sure! Another question I am personally curious about: what pulled you towards doing this line of work? From what I understand you are a licensed clinical counselor, so what drew you to this area of work in comparison to other areas such as private practice, etc?
Laura: Well actually I own a private practice- with my husband actually- so that has been a part of my world for about 10 years now. I do that for about 8-10 hours a week in the evenings and on the weekends. Prior to coming to OSU, I worked at Capital University as their full-time counselor. However, when this position opened and was nudged my way, I couldn’t think of how amazing it would be to funnel my umbrella of mental health work down to a core area, suicide prevention. Also, being able to take my administrative skills that I wasn’t really using and starting to marry it with my mental health background here. This program was ready for the next level, and it was really exciting to think of how much I could learn. It was a bit intimidating because it was clear to me how hard people have worked and how many resources people have put into this program- and for it to be handed to me? It felt like a very intense new responsibility but what was more intense was the excitement of it and the prospect of doing all of that. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I can’t think of a better or more important thing than putting my time and energy into saving lives.
Abbey: I can really feel your passion and it is obvious you love what you do! What specifically makes your work so meaningful to you as an individual/person?
Laura: What first comes to mind is the partnerships. Ohio State is giant, and it is very common for people to be very good at their jobs but unaware of the opportunities that lie between them. But in suicide prevention- you have to be in the middle- that is how we save lives best. So for me, I love meeting new people, collaboration, and connecting with everybody in some fashion on campus. The way that we do suicide prevention here really matches my personality and style- so it is really meaningful for me. Additionally, we hear a lot of stories of how people’s lives are saved on this campus. It is incredibly rewarding and affirming to hear that our work is making an impact.
Abbey: Where do you find hope and healing in your work?
Laura: When we have moments when we can come together, virtual or not, there is a “spirit” attached to those types of gatherings. We are all there for the same reason- we’ve all been touched by suicide in some way. And to have an event where anybody is invited to unify around that and to provide hope and healing to each other are powerful moments. There is such intense love and passion in those, and it is re-energizing for me. It reminds me of how I have been touched by suicide as well and why this work is so important to me. It is in people’s stories and people’s commitment to our mission that gives me hope and drives me in believing that we really can make a difference.
Abbey: What does a “campus culture of care” mean to you?
Laura: To me, it means that there is not one single student, staff, or faculty member that feels alone. That everyone knows they have a place, this is their home, they belong, and they are welcomed and accepted. And when life feels tough, or there is some kind of barrier, that they do not feel like they have to jump over that by themselves. That people at a moments notice are here ready to walk with them but also celebrate the good things with them too. It is about resources and relationships. We can have the best counseling program in the country, but if people don’t feel like that is designed for them, it doesn’t matter. They’re not going to use it and people aren’t going to believe that they matter as much as they truly do. That stems from the importance of relationships and communication. So overall, a campus culture of care has a lot of good tricks, tools, tricks, people and resources in it- but we have to make that stuff come alive.
Abbey: Alright, last one! What is your favorite campus resource to use yourself or share with others?
Laura: I guess one that jumps to mind, primarily because it is new to the scene, it the PAL line. That idea was student-driven and it is a really unique way for students to connect with another student. It is really unique to our campus. It is neat to have piloted something here in the past few years brand new and having supported that. I hope that students see that the PAL line comes from students wanting to support other students. I know those volunteers are trained really well and it is a cool feature to our campus.
And there you have it everyone- Laura Lewis! I hope you all got to learn a bit about one of the many wonderful leaders in suicide prevention here on our campus!
Link to the Buckeye PAL line website: https://swc.osu.edu/services/buckeye-peer-access-line/
To reach the Buckeye PAL line, call: 614-514-3333
The Buckeye Peer Access Line (PAL) is a non-emergency talk line that provides a space for students to engage in brief phone conversations in order to gain support and learn about campus resources. Student volunteers are available to provide peer-to-peer assistance that promotes and enhances student development and wellbeing.