USD’s united front against suicide

By Olivia Lougee

During National Suicide Prevention month, the University of San Diego community remembers students whose lives were lost to suicide, while pushing efforts to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.
In October 2013, USD was awarded a three-year, $300,000 federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to create a suicide prevention program and to expand its current resources. A year later, the university is fulfilling the grant’s mission by implementing new programs aimed towards suicide prevention.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that USD had planned to use this additional funding to train students, faculty and staff to be aware of the warning signs of those who are suicidal and to expand prevention outreach efforts.

Part of that student training initiative has taken the form of the Center for Health and Wellness Promotion’s QPR, Question, Persuade, Refer, trainings, which work to teach the USD community to understand and take an active role in the prevention of suicides.

Jessica Critchlow, operations manager for the Center for Health and Wellness Promotion, said these gatekeeper suicide prevention tools will help the USD community take a more active role in helping those in crisis. Critchlow said the center also provides additional resources beyond the QPR training.

“We also provide an online, interactive training called Kognito: At-Risk, for all students, faculty and staff who wish to take an active part in supporting suicide prevention efforts in our community,” Critchlow said.

These new trainings and online resources, created with the funding from the grant, are a good first step for students who feel the university should do more to help prevent suicides.

Junior Rachel Whelan lost her friend and fellow USD student when he took his own life in April 2013. Whelan said the university has an imperative to create the tools that struggling students can use in times of crisis.

“I think the most important thing a university can do is expand its resources for those who are struggling, and make them as available as possible,” Whelan said.

Whelan believes USD has already created these resources for students, but that there is always room for improvement.

“USD has already begun to start raising awareness, which is very important,” Whelan said. “The next step is to strengthen the counseling center and other areas of support so that every student can find them accessible and feel comfortable taking full advantage of them.”

Dr. Melissa Halter, director of the Center for Health and Wellness promotion, said that the additional resources from the grant will work to make those improvements.

“The resources USD will receive will allow the institution to implement a comprehensive plan for suicide prevention and mental health stigma reduction,” Halter said. “Bringing together a multidisciplinary team of USD professionals and partnering with community experts, USD will implement a plan to engage the whole university community in these efforts.”

Beyond the scope of the new grant money and plans for a larger campuswide initiative, junior Kirsten Klein, who was also close to USD student who took his own life, believes that students must work together to prevent suffering.

“We need to take care of each other and reach out to everyone, even to those who seem the happiest,” Klein said. “Because often times the ones with the biggest smiles are hiding the most pain. We cannot avoid talking about mental illness, depression, or suicide simply because it’s ‘uncomfortable’. It’s uncomfortable because we haven’t found the right discussion yet. We have to keep trying.”

USD students are not alone in their struggle to understand and deal with suicide. Suicides across San Diego are steadily increasing.

In an ABC10News report, county officials said that San Diego County’s suicide rate is now up 20 percent over the last six years.

According to the Huffington Post, approximately 40,000 people die from suicide in the United States each year, with approximately 3,500 of those deaths occurring in California. Overall, those numbers are increasing annually.

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center reports that of the 3,500 annual suicide deaths in California, nearly a third of them are of college students.

With college students representing a large portion of California’s annual deaths by suicide, students look to universities to aid in prevention of these tragedies. Beyond the implementation of new programs, junior Georgia Andresen believes other USD resources have helped students.

“I think that USD has done a really good job in the past couple of years trying to help prevent this from happening in the future,” Andresen said. “By creating such programs as the University Ministry peer mentors, USD is trying to give people another person to go to in times of need. We just have to remember that we are never alone.”

With the additional funding from the grant, increased training, and campus awareness about suicide prevention, the USD community looks to heal itself while preventing further tragedies in the future.