To Help Others, College President Reveals Suicide Attempts

Santa Ono says he wants to smash stigma surrounding mental illness
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 24, 2016 11:19 AM CDT
To Help Others, College President Reveals Suicide Attempts
In this Sept. 4, 2013, file photo, University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono poses on campus in Cincinnati.   (AP Photo/Al Behrman, File)

Those who follow the University of Cincinnati's president on Twitter may have been thrown by a tweet he posted over the weekend, as well as by a speech he made at a local event. "My message tonight: There should be no stigma for those with mental illness. I tried to take my own life 2X. We need to support each other," Santa Ono tweeted Saturday night. Earlier that day, Ono had told 200 or so people attending a fundraiser that he attempted to OD on cold meds and beer when he was 14, and that he tried to kill himself once more in his late 20s, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. The 53-year-old says his revelations, which came during a week when the university was remembering Brogan Dulle, a student who hanged himself in 2014, were his way of shattering the mental illness stigma and supporting others with similar struggles. "I felt that if I really wanted to break the silence, the right thing to do was to take advantage of the fact that I communicate with a lot of people over Twitter and social media," he says. "I wanted to get that message out to a broader audience."

Ono's message was lauded online and by colleagues like Dr. Phil Diller, head of the college's Department of Family and Community Medicine, who says Ono was particularly affected after Dulle's death and helped lobby for resources so the school could offer more mental health services, including five free counseling sessions to which every student is now entitled. Meanwhile, Dulle's mom says Ono has become a family friend. "It's amazing that he was willing to share that to help other people," she says. "It's not easy for people to talk about things like that." Ono says he's now been free of symptoms for 25 years and that although he would've been "petrified" to talk about his struggles during his younger years, "now I'm speaking from a much stronger station in life, and it's important for me and others to speak about this to encourage legislators to support more programs." (The suicide rate has jumped for most Americans.)

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