Students prescribed psychological services
Since the tragic event happened on May 4, when Santa Monica College student Tian Lu committed suicide on campus, the psychological services provided by the school have been a topic of discussion.
However, many students are not even aware that SMC offers free psychological help.
To raise awareness of these services, an open house was held in the office for psychological services Monday, kicking off SMC's Mental Health Week.
About 50 students and professors came by the office, where refreshments and free massages were offered. Even though many of the visitors came looking for the free snacks, all of them left with a little more information about the different services provided.
The office is open between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with walk-in hours from 10 a.m. to noon and 3 to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 10 to 11 a.m. on Fridays.
However, appointments are recommended because of high demand.
"There are only six of us, and over 30,000 students," said Dr. Amy Rosenblatt, a psychologist at SMC. "Because of that, we have volunteers from Didi Hirsch Mental Health Center and Family Services of Santa Monica once or twice a week."
Only short-term treatment is offered on campus, and if students are in need of further care, they will be referred to a nearby clinic.
According to the office, 34 percent of community college students in the country suffer from depression, and eight percent have considered suicide in the past year.
No problem is too small for the doctors, and they welcome all students.
"We never turn a person down. Anyone who comes in will get some kind of service," said Martha Whitfield, a clerk at the student services. "And if you haven't paid the health fee, we will let you get one appointment anyway. The purpose is to help everybody."
The staff at the psychological services office have noticed an increase in students seeking help this past week. Professors have also sought help on how to see the different signs of depression in their students.
The waiting list for an appointment is approximately 30-40 names, but crisis situations are always highest priority.
"If someone comes in and says that he or she is thinking about suicide, or might hurt others, we make an appointment for that person right away," said Rosenblatt.
Appointments are about 50 minutes and only for individual students, not group sessions.
With a growing number of international students at SMC, a common problem can be the language barrier between student and doctor.
"We have had Mandarin and Spanish-speaking doctors. We are hoping to get a Swedish doctor for next year," said Whitfield. "International students are our number one priority. Most of them come here alone, and it might be a tough cultural shock for them."
Everything is confidential and the staff will not give out any information, unless students shows signs of hurting themselves or others.
Some may wonder how to go about reporting a friend or classmate who may discuss taking their own life.
"You can always come to us if you suspect that a friend might be suicidal. We tell you how and what to ask that person," said Dr. Sandra Lyons Rowe, a psychologist. "We don't approach a person, unless it's an emergency. It's always better if a friend takes that step."
The office have previously arranged workshops, both for students and professors, where they learned about the typical signs and how to approach a possibly suicidal person.
These workshops will return if they get enough requests, said Rowe, and hopefully the tragic suicide of Tian Lu can inspire more to show interest in the workshops.
The students anonymity is very important, and the staff do what they have to do in order to keep students protected.
"If someone asks us if a person comes here for help, we will tell them no, no matter if it's a relative or professor," said Rosenblatt.
The files on each student can only be accessed by Whitfield, who files them, and the doctors. Every file is terminated after eight years. The students can not access their own files.
Apart from personal counseling and crisis interventions, the office also provides services for problems with alcohol and other substance abuse.
The doctors in the office are not allowed to give out prescriptions. If a doctor thinks a student is in need of medication, he or she will be referred to a psychiatrist.
The office is closed on weekends, but they provide phone numbers for different hotlines, depending on the students' situations, which can be called at any time.
If a student is in need of help, contact the psychological services at 310-434-4503, or visit their office in the Liberal Arts Building, Room 110.
You can also reach a 24-hour Suicide Prevention Hotline at 310-391-1253.