Retired U.S. Army colonel and post-traumatic stress disorder expert Charles Hoge will give a free lecture tomorrow at the Mosher Alumni House as part of a new suicide prevention outreach effort launched by UCSB Counseling and Psychological Services.

The goal of the campaign, called #saysomething, is to generate discussion on the mental health issues surrounding suicide. Suicide is said to be the second leading cause of death on U.S. college campuses.

Hoge is a veteran psychiatrist who oversaw military research on the mental health effects of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and the transition from military to civilian life. He has testified on his findings before Congress and written a book called Once a Warrior, Always a Warrior,

The effort was made possible by CAPS’s ongoing grant from the California Mental Health Services Authority called the Student Mental Health Initiative. The grant took effect in 2011 and will continue through the end of this school year. It is funded by Proposition 63, an initiative that provided increased funding to statewide mental health programs in 2004.

CAPS Mental Health Specialist Gladys Koscak said Hoge was chosen because he can identify with student veterans, who make up a large portion of the Student Mental Health Initiative’s target audience.

“Suicides in the veteran community are very high,” Koscak said. “Dr. Hoge is going to come do clinical training for our staff and we are inviting people to come … hear him speak about the transition for veterans, along with PTSD and mild traumatic brain injuries.”

During his lecture, Hoge will discuss the trauma that can accompany the return to civilian life from war as well as the stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health problems.

“I think a lot of people have misconceptions about what the experience is like for service members who have served in the military and are veterans now coming into the university setting,” Hoge said.

While targeting student veteran demographics is particularly important to the campaign, Kosack said CAPS is tailoring the initiative to relate to all students, using tools like social media to demystify mental health issues and give students exposure and access to mental health services.

“It means say something about yourself if you feel you are really struggling, say something if you see something that’s wrong even if it is somebody you don’t know, and also say something about a friend.” Kosack said. “We really want to encourage the idea that people can get help before it is a crisis.”

Mental Health Greek Counseling Peer and second-year biological anthropology major Emily Balaguer said campaigns such as #saysomething can be helpful to students facing the stress of college life who might be hesitant to reach out for help.

“I also see how many amazing resources there are on campus and how important it is for people to take advantage of them,” Balaguer. “Even for people who don’t think they have serious issues, there are groups and support systems for everyone.”

According to Hoge, the work CAPS does to remove stigmas surrounding mental health issues is an important step towards prevention and early intervention.

“It is a sign of strength to come in and get help, not a sign of weakness,” Hoge said.


A version of this story appeared on page 3 of the Wednesday, November 20, 2013 issue of the Daily Nexus.