Positive steps toward suicide prevention in Fox Valley area

Kaye Herranen

Recently many students on campus were contacted via email and campus mail to request their participation in a survey about suicide prevention. The survey’s aim was to evaluate students’ knowledge of suicide awareness and suicide prevention programs.

The results from the Suicide Prevention, Exposure, Awareness and Knowledge Survey — or SPEAKS for short — will be used to determine federal funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the implementation of suicide prevention programs on college campuses across the country.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-aged students, showing that this concern is relevant to the Lawrence community. While the SPEAKS survey is not itself a suicide prevention program, its findings can help address our campus’ mental health needs.

While suicide awareness is a step in the right direction, we should also do more to prevent students from getting to the point where suicide becomes an option. The Lawrence community should focus on stress management programs throughout the entire term — not only during finals week, when students are most stressed — and encourage students to be physically active and to maintain a regular sleep cycle.

With the recent combination of the Buchanan Kiewit Recreation Center and the university’s health and counseling services comes a new focus on well-balanced student health. However, while many students know that Lawrence has counseling services, some may not know where the services are or how to make an appointment. The campus counseling services should increase their visibility on campus and hold suicide prevention training sessions for students and staff.

The Wellness Center could also hold a discussion focused on dispelling common myths surrounding suicide and depression.

Additionally, faculty should focus on developing skills to identify students who may be struggling with mental illness. Because faculty members come into contact with students on a regular basis and are generally trusted by students, they can encourage an individual to seek help.

The Fox Valley community is also raising awareness about suicide prevention by offering QPR — Question, Persuade and Refer – training at local high schools next week. The training sessions will include information on the warning signs of suicide and how to help someone at risk for suicide.

I find these types of community-based prevention initiatives very encouraging. Too often, discussion of mental health issues and suicide is inhibited by attached social stigma. Avoiding open discussion of mental health issues only further discourages students from seeking counseling. Asking for help is never a sign of weakness. Life can be stressful; everybody could use a little help sometimes.