As a National Football Foundation Hall of Fame scholar-athlete, a National Latin Exam Silver award winner and a student at the prestigious Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania senior Kyle Ambrogi was viewed by many as a model of the “perfect student.”
Penn students and faculty were left startled when they learned of the 21-year-old’s death in October.
Ambrogi’s death may have shed light on depression – a problem that 40 percent of college students nationwide deal with.
In the aftermath of his death, several citywide health organizations have worked to make their resources more prevalent on local college campuses, including Temple.
“[Society] has an idea of the kind of person who battles depression, but [Ambrogi] was very bright, athletic, and had more resources than most people … depression stems from chemical imbalances in the human mind; it can happen to anyone,” said Patricia Gainey, a staff member of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Since Ambrogi’s death, GPAFSP has been working with the University of Pennsylvania to educate students about suicide on college campuses through several gatekeeper training programs.
The organization has similar efforts at Temple, where it works alongside the Center for Social Policy and Community Development’s “Youth With Voices” program. The two organizations work with the School District of Philadelphia to promote suicide awareness among minority youth, and has screened over 1,000 students for depression and suicide-related behaviors, according to CSPCD.
“Educating is the first thing we do for [physical] problems, yet we don’t do this for mental health problems. We should do screenings … any other diseases [are treated] this way,” Gainey said.
Similar services are provided through Tuttleman Counseling Services, which, according to Director John DiMino, has offered support to an increased number of students so far this year.
“With our online screenings, we’re hitting more students than ever, [while with] public screenings, we may only get a few students to show up … the number of students coming in this year is on the rise,” DiMino said.
But online screenings are not the only services provided by Tuttleman Counseling Services. They offer both individual sessions and support groups, and often holds educational workshops. Self-help information for various mental health issues can even be found on its Web site. The department also communicates with nearby organizations, DiMino said, and is in contact with other university counseling directors.
But DiMino does not underestimate the individual’s role in suicide prevention. The center offers educational information for students on how to identify possible warning signs from friends, and how to offer them assistance.
“A friend can be extremely important … 75 percent of people who commit suicide tell someone about their intentions beforehand … but if they [friends] feel like the problem is above them, professionals should be brought in,” DiMino said.
Junior broadcasting, mass media and telecommunications major Kristen Yarrington had first-hand experience with a friend going through feelings of depression, yet she expressed mixed feelings about the Tuttleman Counseling Services.
“I had a friend who went to Tuttleman Counseling Services, and found it helpful, but was disappointed that they provided short term care,” Yarrington said. “She was frustrated because at the end of the semester she wanted to continue seeing the same counselor and they told her that she would have to see another one.”
Yarrington, however, said she still sees benefits for students going through depression in using the Counseling Center, but students often decline to use it.
“Anyone else I’ve known who’s struggled with depression in college here at Temple has not gone [to the center], although it might have helped. There’s still a bit of a stigma on going to see a counselor,” Yarrington said.
Freshman mechanical engineering major Mark Calloway expressed similar experiences with friends battling depression.
“I’ve taken the time to talk to them and do something fun with them,” Calloway said, “It’s very important to the recovering process.”
Calloway expressed his feelings on the prevalence of depression among college campuses, and even hinted to Temple’s diversity to help explain why some students here might be battling the disease.
“It can be a big problem here at Temple. You have so many different students from so many different backgrounds all interacting. It can create tension,” Calloway said.
But while both Yarrington and Calloway find the resources here at Temple to be adequate, they both believe there are ways to better reach out to students in need.
“[Tuttleman Counseling Services] already does a really good job of informing incoming students about it at open houses, on tours, and orientations. [It needs] something [to] make it more casual, like an ear to listen when you just need to talk,” Yarrington said.
“I don’t see the Center prevalent around campus that much. I think an increase in sponsored programs would help get the word out that there is a place for students to go,” Calloway said.
Created in 1987, Security On Campus is a nonprofit organization that serves colleges in the Greater Philadelphia area. Its most recent push has been to promote parental notification of any counseling done within the college setting, as well as requesting that college suicides be recorded and tracked.
“If [Ambrogi’s] mother was made aware that he was seeking counseling, maybe she could have had a change to help him. Who knows what might have happened if she knew,” said Security On Campus Executive Director Catherine Bath.
The organization recently received a federal grant, and will be using it to provide training sessions for colleges in the Greater-Philadelphia area regarding parental notification.
“Students are often cautious about getting parents involved, however, whenever someone is suicidal we try to involve as many resources as we can, and often that means the parents,” DiMino said.
Statewide, college suicide became a greater concern in 2001 with the formation of the Pennsylvania Youth Suicide Prevention Plan, an 11-goal oriented measure adapted from a similar nationwide proposition. It wasn’t until around this time that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was established by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
DiMino urged students to make use of the resources available to them, and to visit Tuttleman Counseling Services when they or a friend are in need of support. “There is help,” he said. “Depression is a normal reaction to life events … [it] is a very treatable disease.”
Jacob Shaugnessy can be reached at email@example.com.