Why a university president opened up about his suicide attempts

Ono sharing his story brings issue of mental health 'out of the darkness,' university official says

Santa Ono, president of the University of Cincinnati (UC) and a professor at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, spoke publicly on Saturday about his past suicide attempts in an effort to combat the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

He says he hopes his comments show that depression can be treated and spur lawmakers to fund more mental health counseling programs, Cameron Knight and Anne Saker report for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Ono initially shared his story at a fundraiser for 1N5, a group dedicated to increasing awareness and education about mental health. The group's name references the statistic that one in five Americans will face mental health issues.

At the fundraiser, Ono said he attempted suicide at age 14 and then again in his late 20s. He later tweeted about his suicide attempts and the importance of combating the stigma around mental health issues.

Ono, who is now 53, says he hopes that speaking about his experience "will be an encouragement to other people who are going through difficult times."

Related: Princeton professor writes "CV of Failures" to encourage young colleagues

"Someone was there for me to help me work my way through that with medication and also seeing a professional to help me through very dark times in my life," Ono tells the Enquirer. "There's light at the end of the tunnel. If you have the proper counseling and support, it's really possible for you to move past that and move back into functioning life."

Ono's comments come during the week that the university community is commemorating the death of student Brogan Dulle, who died by suicide in 2014. Ono, who became university president in 2012, "was instrumental in finding the resources for the university to provide any student with five free sessions of mental health counseling," Knight and Saker write.

Several members of the university community are praising Ono's comments.

Phil Diller, chair of UC's department of family and community medicine, says, "It's a courageous revelation for him to put it out there," adding, "He's using his office to really communicate ... that people who are highly successful in their lives have issues with mental health as well."

Diller notes that depression and suicide are particularly prevalent among college students. More than 100,000 college students attempted suicide in 2012.

Charles Collins, EVP of UC College of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, says Ono's sharing of his story will have "a powerful effect because it brings it out of the darkness. So many people have depression and have no one to really discuss it."

Beth Dulle, Brogan's mother, says that Ono has become a family friend since her son's death. She adds, "It's amazing that he was willing to share that to help other people ... I think it has to give a lot of people courage to open a dialogue. It's hard to ask for help" (Knight/Saker, Cincinnati Enquirer/USA Today, 5/23; Friedman, Psychology Today, 5/13/14).

Related: "You retain one student, that investment has paid for itself," says mental health expert


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