Santa Ono, president of the University of Cincinnati, stunned an audience by revealing that in his youth he twice tried to kill himself. In an interview with The Enquirer, Ono said he recovered from depression and he wanted to lessen the stigma attached to mental illness.
“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 said. “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.”
“It’s a courageous revelation for him to put it out there,” said Dr. Phil Diller, who oversees the University Health Service in his role as chairman of UC’s department of family and community medicine. “He’s using his office to really communicate this point: that people who are highly successful in their lives have issues with mental health as well. This is a courageous thing to do.”
College students are particularly vulnerable to depression and suicide. More than 100,000 college students nationwide attempted suicide in 2012.
After the event, Ono took to social media. Ono told his more than 70,000 followers on Twitter about his suicide attempts. He later told The Enquirer, “Speaking at the event, I reached a couple hundred people and 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. I wanted to get that message out to a broader audience.”
Dr. Charles W. Collins, a UC Health physician and executive vice chairman of the UC College of Medicine’s department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience, saw the Ono statements pop up Saturday night on Facebook. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is an important revelation,’ because he is at the top of his game as a person and as a great individual, and he admits this, which can be quite helpful to people,” Collins said. “It has a powerful effect because it brings it out of the darkness. So many people have depression and have no one to really discuss it.”
Collins said Ono can counteract the impression that people harbor about depression “that it’s a weakness, and to have such a powerful figure who clearly is not weak talk about something that happened to him and something that he clearly overcame, that can help make people seek treatment earlier.”