Group brings suicide awareness to campus
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2012 17:09
According to national statistics, one out of every 10 college students has considered suicide.
That might not sound like a lot, but apply that statistic to a larger group, like 7,800, the approximate enrollment at UTM, and that becomes 780 people who are on the fence about their lives, and in many cases, they are not talking about it with anyone.
In order to help this cause, the National Suicide Awareness Week took place last week, encouraging people to talk about their experiences and get the word out about suicide and depression. At UTM, QPR, a suicide awareness program on campus, hosted two training sessions on suicide on Sept. 11 and Sept. 12, helping students understand how to recognize symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts.
Student Health Clinical Coordinator and QPR Gatekeeper Instructor Jenifer Hart helped lead the sessions and thought it went well, despite the low attendance numbers.
“Unfortunately, we only had about 28 participants. Last year we had 150. We don’t know why, but we would like to see it gain some popularity. A lot of people think that talking about suicide is such a taboo kind of thing, and we want it more where people are more acceptable of the subject matter because it’s very important. … [However,] overall, we think it went well,” Hart said.
QPR stands for “Question, Persuade, Refer.” With QPR, students and faculty can receive a one-hour session to learn the basics of detecting signs of suicidal thoughts in students, enabling them to be able to question and persuade depressed students in a direction of hope, then referring them to a counselor or medical professional. This program has been in place on campus since April 2010, when the UTM Students of Concern Team came together and decided that creating suicide awareness was an important issue.
“We were like, ‘Suicide prevention, this is what we need on campus; we need this awareness training.’ So we felt like the people to get that started was the Students of Concern Team. … Suicide is one of those things, like it’s kind of a pink elephant in the room; everybody knows it’s around, but nobody wants to talk about it. So if we can get the communication going, we can possibly prevent some bad things from happening,” Hart said.
According to Hart, since their beginning only two years ago, QPR has trained over 1,300 people, both students and staff. Training sessions occur sporadically throughout the school year, with many of them happening in small groups upon request. There are 11 faculty and staff that are trained as QPR Gatekeeper Instructors, all in different departments across campus. One Gatekeeper Instructor, Biological Sciences Professor Darrell Ray, just joined the group within the past year.
“Once I got to know what the whole purpose of the group was, I was very impressed with it, because I think it’s important that we do help people, and we are in a unique position to see people at their best and worst. … We’re more than willing to meet with anybody [and] set up a time and go through the program. It’s a fairly brief presentation but it’s something that, you spend an hour now, and you might be able to help somebody get out of this dark place,” Ray said.
Certainly suicide training sessions and organizations like QPR help, but there are also things that UTM students and faculty can do to fight the epidemic in their daily lives.
“If you understand something about the symptoms of depression, and you see someone who is sleeping too much, is sleeping too little, seems withdrawn, changes their attitudes, is more interested in religion or less interested in religion, or if you see people maybe giving away prized possessions, people who make comments like, ‘Well, you won’t have me to worry about much longer,’ or ‘I won’t be around to do that,’ if the person is in that bad place, then that should really put up a red flag,” Ray said.
“The students are the eyes and ears on campus. … As fellow students, just being nice to people, being courteous, being respectful, offering a smile or a hello, can make anybody feel a little bit better and brighten their day,” Hart said.
According to Ray, communication and awareness are key elements to helping with depression and suicide.
“So often, people don’t talk about suicide. And if we know of someone who’s committed suicide, we often just kind of whisper about it because it’s one of those not socially acceptable topics. But it’s an illness. It is a manifestation of an illness. And if we talk about cancer, if we talk about tuberculosis, if we talk about these other kinds of things, then this ought to be something we can talk about and that we can help people with,” Ray said.
Part of that communication is letting people know that depression can be helped and that suicide does not have to be the answer. According to Hart, 90 percent of people thinking about suicide have a diagnosable case of depression, meaning they can get help.
There are several ways for students to get help. If it is in the middle of the week during the day, Student Health offers free counseling Monday through Friday. Outside of those hours, if someone has a crisis, they can visit a local emergency room, call 911, call campus security at 777, call the local Pathways crisis number at 1-800-372-0693 or call the national crisis number at 1-800-273-TALK.