Courtesy UNK/Publication Design
Suicide Prevention on Campus: Keeping Students Connected
Getting students to reach out to other students is a critical focus of UNK’s suicide prevention program, Ms. Steinbeck said. As part of the SAMHSA grant, the campus conducts a yearly survey that asks students, faculty, and staff about perception, such as if they would feel comfortable talking to someone about mental health issues and how they perceive the campus atmosphere.
“There’s a negative perception that people who have mental health issues are different and that they’re not okay,” Ms. Steinbeck said. She explained that in Midwest Nebraska, many people get by with the “do-it-yourself, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps” mentality. “You hear them say, ‘Don’t ask for help, you can handle it.’ ”
That’s a driving force behind getting the participating students into classrooms. “We think it’s going to help reduce the stigma more than an adult talking to students,” Ms. Steinbeck said. “Peer-to-peer relationships are important. Otherwise, getting help for a mental health problem can be intimidating—nobody wants to be the odd man out.”
“Because of the SAMHSA grant, we’ve been able to pull everyone together, and now we have a more holistic approach,” Ms. Steinbeck said. “Counseling Care works directly with Health Care now, so we can treat physical and mental symptoms in one place.” Before the grant, mental health services and physical health care were separate departments.
Counseling Care also was able to hire a psychiatrist to come into the office once a month. The center also offers workshops and presentations on various mental health topics.
In addition, UNK’s staff received training from Syracuse University (SU), a former SAMHSA grantee, on the Campus Connect “gatekeeper” program that SU established under its own Campus Suicide Prevention grant. A gatekeeper is a person who comes into contact with students, recognizes warning signs of suicide or distress, and then can help link those students to a counselor.
“The Syracuse University program demonstrates how much creativity and progress in mental health promotion and suicide prevention can be achieved under the SAMHSA grant,” Ms. Blogier said. “Their work has informed and enriched the programs of other colleges and universities, and we’ve been able to reach more students because of it.”
Ms. Steinbeck and other staff members now train resident hall advisors (RAs) and students enrolled in nursing, sociology, and psychology classes to act as gatekeepers and help direct students who appear to be in crisis to the counseling center.
“Because we’ve been in classrooms and because we’ve conducted the trainings, RAs know who we are, so if a crisis happens in their buildings, they feel comfortable walking a student to the center,” Ms. Steinbeck said.
Next on the agenda is to post billboards throughout the university and in the town of Kearney, displaying SAMHSA’s National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) as well as the Counseling Care office number and location. “A lot of our students commute or live off campus, so that’s a better way to reach them,” Ms. Steinbeck said.
“The SAMHSA grant allows for flexibility in programming,” Ms. Blogier said. “Some suicide prevention programs need to reach more commuter students while others need to raise awareness in the dorms. Each school has different needs and different target populations.”
Things are definitely changing at UNK, Ms. Steinbeck said. “We now have a designated staff person to visit classrooms and get the word out about mental health services.”
Find out more about UNK’s Counseling Care services. Find out about SAMHSA’s other efforts to prevent suicide.