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SLU prioritizes mental health after 4 student suicides

More than 6,000 students have used the school's counseling services this academic year.

ST. LOUIS — The numbers alone will stop you in your tracks. According to the CDC, a person dies by suicide every 11 minutes in the United States. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-34 years old.

Saint Louis University has made mental health access a top priority, after losing four students to suicide this school year.

"Definitely the mood on campus has been different. It just opened our eyes like you don't know who's struggling," said SLU student Audrey Williams. "You don't know what people are going through."

Since fall, four SLU students have died by suicide. One of them was on the varsity swim team with sophomore Jack Locke. They were close friends.

"It doesn't like shock you until it actually happens and it’s just so surprising and everything just sort of stands still," explained Locke.

Locke said the university stepped in and offered the swim team counseling and other mental health services to cope with the sudden loss.

"I definitely think being a college athlete is hard. It's a big struggle. It's a lot of work especially for swim. It's hard to put in two practices a day, to eat and to get classes in and keep the grades up," he said.

Knieba Jones-Johnson is director of university counseling and said access to mental health care is a top priority.

“Students are having to meet demands and expectations, which often is very rigorous and overwhelming," Jones-Johnson said. "I think one of the things students struggle with is what do I do now, where do I go?"

Saint Louis University is getting creative with how it reaches its students to let them know about the mental health resources available on campus. They’ve placed signs across campus with QR codes. Students can scan them with their phone and it brings them straight to the website where all the resources are available.

Jones-Johnson said more than 6,000 counseling appointments have been made this academic year, which is almost half of the student population.

“I think it’s important to think about the hope and to think about how our students are overcoming their stressors and that the university is here to provide that support to them," said Jones-Johnson.

Junior Audrey Williams runs a women's mental health group on campus.

"We've been able to facilitate conversations with SLU students and have like open hearings about people's experiences and how they'd want to see SLU change its resources," she said.

Often times, friends and family have no idea their loved one is struggling.

"I don't want to leave here today without encouraging parents to really make sure you're having conversations with your students about how are you doing, are you struggling with anything?" Jones-Johnson said.

Locke said he’s doing OK coping with the loss of his friend.

"I just want people to know that he was a very sweet and kind person, and I want everyone to check in on their friends no matter if you think they’re doing good or not. Just check in on them, be there for them," he said.

SLU has also partnered with behavioral health response counselors who work inside the student dorms, readily available when students need someone to talk to.

Our other local colleges and universities are also making mental health a priority.

Mental health resources at local universities:

Saint Louis University: https://www.slu.edu/wellbeing/

UMSL: https://www.umsl.edu/hcdas/counseling/services/index.html

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville: https://www.siue.edu/counseling/

Washington University: https://students.wustl.edu/community-mental-health-services/


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