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Stony Brook hosts rally on student suicide prevention legislation

President Maurie McInnis speaking at the One More Option rally in the Alan S. DeVries Center on Feb. 23. The rally was an opportunity for student cabinets across Long Island to show their commitment to the Student Suicide Prevention Act by speaking about the importance of the bill.  COBY NUNBERG/THE STATESMAN

On Feb. 23, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and partner nonprofit organization One More Option hosted several other college student governments at a rally in the Alan S. deVries Center to push for stronger legislation regarding student suicide prevention and intervention. 

The rally was an opportunity for student cabinets and leaders all over Long Island to show their commitment to revising the Student Suicide Prevention Act by urging their local county governments to support the bill and speaking about the importance of the bill.

Among the student cabinet members present there were also Stony Brook University faculty members and local legislators, like Chad Lennon (R-Rocky Point).

While there are already provisions for students in grades seven through 12, the revised bill hopes to expand the scope of the current bill to drop all the way down to third grade and up to university students. The current version also fails to address the needs of students in private, charter and independent schools — thus, they will also be included in the bill.

The methods will also be expanded from the original by mandating all school personnel to receive student suicide training at least once, which 37 other states already enforce. Additionally, there are requirements to make already existing resources more visible for intervention, prevention and postvention.   

The coalition was joined by Vignesh Subramanian, a senior biology and psychology double major at Stony Brook who founded an organization called One More Option with similar victories for suicide prevention in Connecticut. 

“[A] similar legislation has won on other stages such as New Jersey and Connecticut,” Vignesh said during a speech. “One state stood out. Three and a half million K-12 and college [students] [in New York State] altogether has stood out.” 

New York State’s suicide prevention legislation is far smaller and has not provided coverage for college-age students, which is the demographic that most often contemplates suicide.

The coalition is made up of 30 collegiate student governments statewide and seven from Long Island, all of whom attended the rally to speak on the topic. 

“Suicide is the second highest reason of death for 10-24 [year olds] and are at historic highs,” Vignesh said.

Various other schools on Long Island such as Hofstra University, Adelphi University, Molloy College, Farmingdale State College, Suffolk County Community College, LIU Post and the New York Institute of Technology have all made their own individual attempts at dealing with the issue on a collegiate scale. 

Stony Brook offers Question, Persuade and Refer training (QPR) and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), as well as a new digital service called TimelyCare, which provides students 24/7 access to suicide prevention tools for free, among other initiatives introduced in 2022.

“I’ve been to the Student Health Services Center and used TimelyCare before and TimelyCare is really amazing,” Ben Sonnet, an information systems major working at CAPS, said. “Within minutes you can be connected and even at like 3 a.m. and that’s for physical or mental health needs.”

Now more than ever, mental health and suicide prevention is receiving attention as rates of attempts are at all-time highs. COVID-19 and quarantine made clear impacts on these rates. 

“Suicide is something that students struggle to speak about,” Devin Lobosco, president of USG and a senior majoring in biochemistry and gender studies, said. “If you can’t have that conversation without that person reacting defensively or thinking of it as a joke which is often, unfortunately, you can’t do it. That is 100 percent the biggest barrier in my eyes to actually enacting the suicide prevention tactics we talked about.”

The coalition has reached numerous schools across the state of New York, and during the rally, each of these schools made their voices heard by urging their local senators to take action on the bill. Lennon made an appearance and spoke on his experience as a veteran with suicidal thoughts.

“You’d be surprised, they’re just looking for someone to say, ‘how’re you doing,’” Lennon said. “They thought they were alone. My message to all of you is you’re not alone.”

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