Letter to the Editor: CWS director on suicide response and mental health resources

The executive director of NYU Counseling and Wellness Services addresses suicide contagion, counseling wait times and in-person counseling availability in response to a recent WSN article about the history of suicide at NYU.

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Echo Chen

(Illustration by Echo Chen)

Zoe Ragouzeos, Executive Director of NYU Counseling and Wellness Services

Dear Editor,

We are writing regarding Alyssa Goldberg’s March 7, 2022, article “Bobst Library’s Enduring History of Suicide.” The article raises a number of important issues that require both a response and clarification.

[Read more: Bobst Library’s Enduring History of Suicide]

Communication after apparent suicides

After an apparent suicide, above all else, well-established mental health practice calls on a community to be mindful of and to act in ways to prevent a suicide contagion. This is a very real and well-documented phenomenon whereby a vulnerable person chooses suicide because someone else has chosen it. When suicide occurs, our reports need to be concise, factual and shaped by the fact that communicating widely may be damaging to vulnerable individuals, who become our primary concern in the aftermath of an apparent suicide. The more a vulnerable individual hears about a suicide, the more likely they are to be influenced by contagion. When we respond as we do, it is the vulnerable individuals in our community who are at the forefront of our thoughts, as they should be.

There are other factors we consider as well, including that families often request privacy in the aftermath of an apparent suicide, which should be honored.

Mental health resources

NYU offers students dedicated 24/7/365 counseling support and emergency response for those who need immediate support and who cannot otherwise wait for an appointment. If a student has a time-sensitive or urgent concern, students can call the Wellness Exchange at (212) 443-9999 to arrange an urgent same-day counseling session or to speak with a counselor by phone, even if a student already has a counselor at NYU; that happens over a thousand times per year. We also offer students same week self-scheduled appointments when they need solution-focused, one-time sessions to help them get unstuck and move forward.

We carefully track student wait times for appointments, and, in fact, student wait times for a regularly scheduled counseling appointment at NYU are significantly shorter than they would encounter outside NYU’s Wellness Exchange services.  In Fall 2021, students who did not express any high-risk issues during the initial phone assessment waited an average of 10 calendar days for their first appointment. Students who expressed higher-risk issues waited no longer than five days, with access to all of the counseling resources described above during their waiting period.

Hybrid services and private spaces

Counseling appointments are available in person as well as virtually, the latter often being the format students are now choosing.  We have remained flexible as we come through the pandemic in providing both in-person and virtual sessions because the students asked us to provide them with options. If students need a private space for a remote CWS counseling session, we have spaces available at the Student Health Center. Students can call us at (212) 998-4780 for more details and to reserve a spot.

We are here for you 24/7/365, and we encourage students to make use of our services when they need support. Please don’t ever hesitate to reach out.

Zoe Ragouzeos, Ph.D., LCSW

Executive Director, NYU Counseling and Wellness Services

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