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UI and Iowa City leaders aim to reduce student suicide

BY ABIGAIL MEIER | SEPTEMBER 03, 2013 5:00 AM

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Through a nearly $300,000 grant, officials in Iowa City and at the University of Iowa hope action will soon move Johnson County one step closer to being free of student suicide.

Sam Cochran, the project director of the grant, will oversee the activities the grant funds.

“We know that the biggest risk and [correlation] of suicide is untreated depression,” he wrote in email. “So by getting a student to help early on, we will prevent him or her from spiraling downward into a deeper depression and becoming suicidal.”

The $270,970 grant funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, will fund three graduate assistants and staff to carry out grant activities, including providing voluntary mental health first-aid training to UI students, faculty, and staff as well as the greater community.

According to information provided by the Johnson County medical examiner, suicide was the third-highest cause of death in the county in 2012.

Additionally, the UI suffers from two to three suicides a year, and Cochran, who also serves as the University Counseling Service director, said the main goal of the grant is to provide training to campus and community networks to help better detect students in times of distress who might become at risk for suicide if they don’t receive help.

There are 16 UI and community partners involved in the grant. Some of them include the Crisis Center of Johnson County, UI Office of International Students and Scholars, and the Rape Victim Advocacy Program.

Keri Neblett, the community-intervention director at the Crisis Center, partnered with the UI Office of International Students and Scholars to develop a crisis chat that allows students to speak with trained counselors on an online platform in either Mandarin or English.

“It is important that students have an outlet for talking about their concerns in a way that is easy to access,” Neblett said. “Having to speak in a second language when you are seeking help can be a difficult barrier to overcome when you are stressed out.”

Leanne Seedorff, the senior associate director of the UI Office of International Students and Scholars, said international students are estimated to be about 10 percent of the total UI student population, and helping them with depression can present a unique challenge.

“The concept of mental illness or seeking mental-health services is uncommon in some cultures,” she said. “Some students are not accustomed to the system in the United States.”

Whether it be international or domestic, Cochran said, the program will be a benefit to all students in the area.

“We can reach out to students who may need help,” he said. “This can save lives.”


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