Suicide prevention grants running low

BY BEN MARKS | OCTOBER 14, 2014 5:00 AM

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Only two months into the semester, the University of Iowa Counseling Services has referred eight students for hospitalization for suicidal behavior.

“That’s just an unprecedented number for us,” said Sam Cochran, the director of the Counseling Service. “It’s about what we would normally see in a full year.”

Although the exact cause of this increase is almost impossible to determine, Cochran said, he would like to think it is because of the increased outreach the center is doing, not because of an increased rate of depression among students.

Roughly 9.5 percent of students nationwide utilized their universities’ counseling centers from 2007 to 2013, according to the most recent study by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors.

The three-year, $270,000 Campus Suicide Prevention grant the UI received in 2012 will expire before the fall of next year.

The main training opportunities the grant has provided, Cochran said, are programs such as Question Persuade Refer and Mental Health First Aid.

Both programs are training seminars designed to help people assess the warning signs of suicide in people and learn how to refer them to professional help.

The UI also has Kognito, an online educational program that uses responsive avatars to help teach students, faculty, and staff about mental health.

Each of these program’s funding comes from the grant. However, the money will run out before the fall of next year, and if the university is not able to secure another source of funding, several of these suicide-prevention programs will have to be cut.

“It’s uncertain about Mental Health First Aid or Kognito,” Cochran said. “Those tend to be relatively expensive programs to deliver, and we’re just not sure what kind of funding picture we’re looking at after the grant.”

Cochran said Question Persuade Refer will most likely continue because he believes there are certified instructors on campus, and the Johnson County Crisis Center might be willing to continue it.

“The advisory committee is in the process of determining which parts of the grant might be worthy of funding and then identifying who we could go ask for the funding,” he said.

A lot of the programs the grant helped sponsor, however, don’t depend on its continued existence, such as the suicide-prevention training the UI Recreational Services staff underwent.

“We often times will develop a relationship with folks that others might not have,” UI Director of Recreational Services JT Timmons said. “If someone comes for personal training, they might get to the point they feel comfortable sharing certain things with their trainer, and so sometimes we can identify and even have conversations with people when they are in need of assistance.”

Another program the grant helped sponsor but won’t eliminate is expanding the Crisis Chat from solely English speakers to including Mandarin speakers at the Crisis Center.

“We were able to train international Chinese students in a 60-hour program to be able to answer the chat line,” said Keri Neblett, the Crisis Center community intervention director.

Although the grant’s financial support was ultimately not very large, Neblett said, the partnership with the university was the true gift.

“In the university specifically, there’s been a lot more involvement from university departments that normally aren’t involved with special services or mental-health issues,” Neblett said. “People who normally wouldn’t think they would encounter someone who is suicidal are reaching out and looking for people in distress, and now they have tools to know what to do.”

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