On Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, Brian O. Blazek, a Rowan University student and computer science major, passed away unexpectedly during winter break due to suicide. This marks the fifth suicide in four years that has the university has had to grapple with.
According to the University of Connecticut, suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals in the college-age demographic. On college campuses across the U.S., approximately 1,100 suicides are expected to occur in a given year.
In the fall semester of 2019, three Rowan students were lost to suicide, leaving students in mourning and causing an outcry from many over the inadequacy of resources available to students. After the university lost yet another member of its student body to suicide in the fall of 2021, protests from students regarding mental health services continued — with an emphasis on how students were placed on a waitlist to receive care.
“I want to be very clear, since Dr. [Amy] Hoch and I have been steering the direction of the Wellness Center, the focus has been to eliminate wait times, which we have… in 2020 we started a partnership, so we have six local mental health agencies that we meet with monthly, and we collaborate on cases,” said Scott Woodside, Director for Student Health Services at Rowan University
The Wellness Center on campus offers psychological services and mental health counseling for a variety of needs that students may have. These include individual or group therapy and self scheduled online sessions for students who want to explore the idea of counseling. In addition, Rowan’s Stress Management and Response Team (SMART) team provides crisis counseling and intervention to the university community. These services include death notification and trauma support.
Director of the Wellness Center Scott Woodside clarified by email that the university has 107 SMART members, which includes the counseling staff, meaning that about 80 Rowan staff are a part of the program. The Wellness Center also has 21 licensed professionals on hand, some full-time, others part-time. In addition to that, they have seven post-doctoral students or interns.
Woodside further detailed how with this partnership students need additional support, the Wellness Center can refer them to Ascenda or Inspira for further treatment.
“We have a very robust team that meets anytime we have a loss of a student or a staff member, and our Rowan policy is to really work first and foremost with the student’s family,” Woodside said. “The policy we have is to immediately notify the surrounding group with that student and not the community at large… If the unfortunate accident happens on campus, if there’s public then, of course, we address that… if at any time anyone is concerned, they can always come to the Wellness Center and reach out for support.”
According to Woodside, there is no legal obligation for the university to notify the student body of a loss in the community. Instead these decisions are left to university officials with input from the family of the deceased.
Amy Hoch, the associate director of the Wellness Center, notes that there are a variety of services in which students can walk in at any time if they’re in crisis or if they want someone to talk to. This includes university counselors and the Stress Management and Response Team (SMART)
“[The] SMART team then works with the dean to notify people who might have been close to the student and then we give out grief and loss information,” Hoch said. “Whenever there’s a death or a loss it can bring up a lot of different thoughts and feelings for people. And so it may hit people differently, grieving is normal. So we want to support the grieving process and we’re happy to come talk to those student groups as well.”
Hoch also detailed the university’s Togetherall and REACH programs. Togetherall is accessible to Rowan students through their emails and allows students to share their emotions in an anonymous but monitored environment. In the event that a student makes a statement that raises concern, one of the professionals that moderates the site would reach out to that student privately for further support. Furthermore, REACH is the university’s crisis counseling service that is available Monday through Friday, though if the Wellness Center is contacted at 856-256-4333 and option three is pressed, students can access after-hours counseling.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or wants to pursue mental health counseling, all of these resources are available for Rowan University students at https://sites.rowan.edu/wellness/counseling/. Additionally, help can be reached 24/7 by calling 988, The National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
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