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Friday, January 21, 2022
'I didn't have any reason to live'


'I didn't have any reason to live'

UW-Madison senior Albert ""Alby"" Luciani took 60 muscle relaxants and lay down in his closet, hoping to quietly slip away.

""I didn't wake up in the hospital,"" he said. ""I woke up in front of my ma and she was bawling. It was the day I was supposed to graduate, so my ma was on her way to my house in the morning. She came in and found me there and took me to the hospital.""

Shaken by Luciani's story, members of University Health Services and the Office of the Dean of Students are jumpstarting a program to bring greater awareness to suicide on college campuses.

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A publicity campaign and university task force are the first steps in a long-term plan to educate the community about intervening when a student shows signs of depression or suicidal tendencies, according to Kathy Kruse, an assistant dean in the Division of Student Life.

""I'm talking probably a three-year plan on different things: Reaching out to faculty, getting people involved to know even who to reach to or who to call if faculty experience this in their classroom or what have you,"" she said.

These efforts build on resources already in place, such as UHS counseling services and the crisis hotline.

Kruse said the university plans to begin the program this spring with Luciani's help.

An active member in Phi Beta Lambda fraternity and the School of Business, Luciani was a successful student who exhibited no suicidal inclinations prior to unexpected family circumstances in his junior year.

Six of his family members got cancer, his mother had a stroke, he thought his brother was going to die and his girlfriend of four years cheated on him with his best friend from childhood.

""It was a solid year and half of everybody I knew was dying. I didn't have any reason to live,"" Luciani said. ""Then I just got really sad and I didn't want anybody to know I was upset…I literally didn't leave my room. I made every excuse not to be social. I let go of every single friend I ever had.""

Dean of Students Lori Berquam, who worked with Luciani, said depressed students and the people around them share the responsibility to reach out to each other to begin resolving these issues.

""I think it's that whole idea of really listening to your friends and really being there,"" Berquam said. ""I'm not saying that Alby's friends weren't. I think he did a good job of cover up. In that case, it's not like it's your responsibility as a friend to figure it out.""

However, Danielle Oakley, UHS director of counseling and consultation, said 90 percent of people who commit suicide allude to their plan in some way.

In addition to efforts by the Office of the Dean of Students, UHS is implementing new programs to combat student suicide, the second leading cause of death among college students.

Through an online program called At Risk, UHS plans to train community members to recognize the signs of depression and respond effectively to students with mental health issues.

Oakley estimates that At Risk will cost the university $28,000. For this price, the parent company, Kognito Interactive, will make the software available to all 60,000 UW-Madison faculty, staff and students in addition to tailoring the program to the university based on student and faculty feedback.

Using avatars, Kognito Interactive creates ""virtual role-play simulations and games where users develop interpersonal skills and learn to effectively manage challenging conversations,"" according to their website.

UHS hopes to implement the program by fall 2011, according to Sarah Van Ormann, Executive Director of UHS.

Luciani, however, said he would have resisted help from university counselors because any intervention would have interfered with his plan to end his life. More important than a counselor, he said, is that the university put troubled students in contact with loved ones.

""The whole goal of this [program] is to be able to identify those signs and get that kid in trouble in contact with somebody that they care about. If my little brother Mikey came and I saw his face, it would have been over. I would have changed my mind,"" he said.

Kipp Cox, an assistant dean and director of Student Assistance and Judicial Affairs, said his department contacts parents or guardians five to ten times each semester.

""We're not just calling and telling the parent, like tattling that your kid has a problem,"" Cox said. ""It's more about how can we partner with you as a parent to help your son or daughter or student.""

Luciani said he began to realize the impact his death would have had when 53 of his friends and family members visited him in a mental institution where he spent two days after his release from the hospital.

Now, in his senior year in the business school, Luciani is spending time picking up the pieces. But life looks a lot brighter from this side.

""I saw the worst in everything,"" Luciani said. ""I'd walk down the street and get pissed off because a kid was crying in public and his ma wouldn't shut him up. Now I just smile and put on my headphones like a normal college kid.""

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