Cardinal View: Training needed for suicide prevention

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According to UHS, 9 percent of UW-Madison students have reported experiencing suicidal ideations over the past year. While that statistic is a single digit, think about it this way — in your lecture of 400, that means that just under 40 people have contemplated suicide over the past year. While the causes and factors that contribute to mental illness are largely varied and sometimes unknown, college conditions can exacerbate this already prevalent issue.

Suicide is a very real disease for college students across the country. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students in the United States. As suicide is a disease that so many of our peers are dealing with, we should make more of an effort to educate our campus about how we can prevent it and its effects. Knowing the signs of someone who is demonstrating behavior that suggests they might be contemplating suicide is critical if we are going to make an impact with suicide prevention efforts on campus

As suicide is both far-reaching and life threatening, one would expect that college campuses put a heavy emphasis on prevention efforts. While UHS does offer a host of counseling options, as well as more informal groups and a 24-hour hotline, not everybody who needs suicide prevention messaging receives it. According to the American College Health Association, 80 to 90 percent of college students who die by suicide did not receive help from their university counseling center. As the people who need help and support might not be getting it, community intervention is integral in ensuring the safety of our community.

“People think — this is a common misconception — that if you ask them, ‘Are you considering suicide?’ that it’s going to put the idea in their head,” UW-Madison National Alliance on Mental Illness vice president Hannah Glasrud said. “But the truth is, if they’re thinking about suicide, there is no way you’re introducing this idea to them.”

This common misconception about suicide would be easily disproved with scientific research and education. However, not many people are informed on how or when to intervene in a crisis situation. Knowing the signs of someone who is demonstrating behavior that suggests they might be contemplating suicide is critical if we are going to make an impact on suicide prevention efforts on campus.“Eighty percent of people who commit suicide told somebody first,” Glasrud said. “So it’s not like they’re silent. There are cues. Eighty percent of people verbally communicated that they were going to go kill themselves, and did.”

Incoming freshmen undergo mandatory trainings each year, such as the Alcohol Edu and U Got This programs, which teach students about alcohol usage and sexual misconduct on campus, and how to prevent it. A similar program teaching students about suicide and other mental health issues, and how to spot signs and intervene, would be invaluable for our campus population.

A program for this currently exists through UHS, but is not mandatory. The At-Risk program aims to help students “recognize students in distress, respond appropriately and refer to campus and local resources,” according to UHS. It is currently being promoted, but has only been taken by 2,100 students since its debut two years ago, according to UHS suicide prevention coordinator Valerie Donovan. While UHS expects the program to reach 1,000 more students this upcoming year, that is only a fraction of the campus population.

By making the At-Risk training mandatory, we would enable many incoming students to recognize their peers who were in a mental crisis and help them to properly intervene. It would also educate them about mental health and suicide so that any societally accepted myths were dispelled. Incoming students would be armed with an arsenal of knowledge that could help them be more aware of a disease that affects almost 10 percent of the population, and ways to help those affected.

Suicide is preventable. With a more concentrated effort in requiring mandatory prevention and awareness training we can make great strides in helping our classmates who may be suffering. By learning to dispel the stigma about suicide we can help make this campus an open place to discuss mental health issues and show those struggling that they are not alone.

If you or someone you know is in crisis please call 1-800-273-8255. Cardinal View editorials represent The Daily Cardinal's organizational opinion. Each editorial is crafted independent of news coverage. Please send all comments, questions and concerns to editorialboard@dailycardinal.com.

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