The University’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is partnering with Active Minds to form a suicide prevention program on campus. Active Minds is a national organization devoted to mental health that has chapters on college campuses across the nation. Through numerous on-campus events and training, they hope to foster education, understanding, and discussion about suicide.
According to CAPS Director Dr. Jennifer D’Andrea, on average 1,100 college-age students die each year in the United States from suicide. D’Andrea began working at the University as a part-time therapist until she became Director last summer. She said that the lack of discourse about suicide is a problem on campus.
“It’s not really talked about as being an issue so I think people don’t really understand the extent to which students struggle with this,” D’Andrea said. “And so the students who do struggle with it feel very isolated. They feel very alone and that compounds the problem and makes it even more difficult.”
The program’s first awareness event occurred last Thursday with a performance of “The Gospel According to Josh” by Josh Rivedal and an accompanying PowerPoint and discussion panel. According to his website, the Gospel is “a 30 character, 12 song one-man show about a boy’s journey through religion, reality TV, and his father’s suicide.”
Originally 75 minutes long, Rivedal has shortened the show to about 30 minutes for performances at college campuses. The 28-year-old focuses on suicide among 18- to 24-year-olds, citing his experience with a long period of depression as a young adult.
“I bring [my show] to schools because there is a need,” Rivedal said after the show.
He noted that by talking about suicide on college campuses, he hopes to rectify misinformation about suicide and clear the stigma associated with it.
“I loved watching someone talk so candidly about issues that are usually not discussed or discussed in a way that is uncomfortable and unspecific,” said Julia Harari ’15. “I really respected his honesty and straightforwardness about suicide and depression and how it has affected his life.”
In addition to awareness events, CAPS will be implementing training programs for staff members on how to recognize signs of suicidal thought as well as how to educate students on helping peers in need. Beginning in March, Campus Connect, a program out of Syracuse University, will come to the University to provide training to faculty, administrators, and other staff members.
“It teaches three main things: how to recognize the signs that somebody’s struggling, how to talk to somebody that you’re concerned about, and how to know what the resources are,” D’Andrea said.
Beginning in the fall, a specialized program for students, the Student Support Network, will focus on peer-to-peer suicide prevention. According to D’Andrea, the program will consist of six one-hour sessions designed to stimulate awareness through discussion and role-play.
“I’m hoping we’ll be able to run that program every semester so that as time goes on we’ll be able to train more and more students,” D’Andrea said.
Active Minds Student Leader Jennifer Pollan ’13, who started the University’s chapter of the organization this past fall, expressed a need for widespread education. Although she said the 35-member audience at the performance of “The Gospel According to Josh” was a step in the right direction, she said she wanted to reach out to a larger group of students.
“I think that the people who seek out those types of performances are the people that already know things,” Pollan said. “So while I think it was good, I really want this to be at the forefront and for people to be thinking about it and realizing that it’s a problem and that we need to be there for our friends.”
Pollan mentioned the passing of Nora Miller ’12 in the fall of 2010, and noted the importance of community support in the face of tragedy.
“We had a pretty gruesome suicide and I think that a lot of people felt that we didn’t really talk about it, there wasn’t a lot of reaching out and that the administration just sort of wanted to make it go away,” Pollan said. “And that’s what Send Silence Packing does. This is ‘Let’s talk about this.’”
Send Silence Packing is a traveling display of 1,100 backpacks that represent the number of college-age suicides each year. Active Minds will bring the display to the University on Apr. 16 and has invited national Active Minds members and other student groups to set up tables outside Olin library.
“The point of it is to help people to understand what 1,100 means, just how many college students that is, and to get people talking about it,” D’Andrea said.
Both Pollan and D’Andrea encouraged students to become more aware and get involved in the efforts going around campus.
“I’m really hoping that come fall semester students are going to be interested in getting trained so we can all just be present for each other and help each other,” D’Andrea said.
Active Minds meets every Wednesday at 7 p.m. in room 115 of 41 Wyllys Avenue.