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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

University Health Services Suicide Prevention Coordinator Valerie Donovan briefed policymakers and Evidence-based Health Policy Project contributors of UW-Madison’s approach to preventing student suicide. 

UHS representative explores new suicide prevention tactics

University Health Services Suicide Prevention Coordinator Valerie Donovan discussed the climate of suicide on UW-Madison’s campus, along with ways students can connect to mental health support, at an Evidence-based Health Policy Project brief at the Wisconsin Capitol. 

The brief highlighted the scope of suicide on UW-Madison’s campus and UHS’ prevention strategies for students. 

According to the National College Health Assessment, in 2018, 14.5 percent of students (representing roughly 6,000 students) reported having suicidal thoughts, while 7.7 percent reported they seriously considered suicide and 1.8 percent (representing roughly 800 students) reported attempting suicide. Twenty-three and a half percent of UW-Madison students also reported having lost a loved one to suicide. 

Donovan said insight from the National College Health Assessment and the Healthy Minds allows improvement in suicide prevention services.  

“These studies give us a better idea of what mental health looks like on campus,” Donovan said. 

She defined suicide prevention as “an active process of creating conditions and attributes that promote the well-being of people.” 

In the brief, Donovan said students experiencing suicidal thoughts are most likely to tell a close friend than a family member, a significant other and a roommate. Students are unlikely to reach out to a clinical professional first, so peer support plays a large role in students’ lives. 

While students on campus do report suicidal thoughts or experiences, in 2018 campus norms started to shift. Donovan said in the last year students who reported depression and received treatment increased from 88 percent to 90 percent and students who reported anxiety and received treatment increased from 82.2 percent to 85.3 percent. 

To continue this increase, Donovan said it is important to implement more prevention-level staff and encourage students to participate in mental health surveys. 

“We know there is a connection between mental health and academic success,” Donovan said.  “I see an opportunity to tie that to a university’s mission statement or strategic planning.” 

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