There have been several reports about suicide prevention efforts on the University of Wisconsin campus over the past few weeks. We commend our community for caring so much about each other and hope to provide some additional context for these issues.
University Health Services’ (UHS) mental health services has been providing suicide prevention programs since the 1970s. The recent announcement about adding more suicide prevention programming on campus is because UHS was able to secure federal resources to support implementation of new, best practices in the field. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant allows us the opportunity to expand beyond UHS to engage the campus and community to be partners in recognizing, responding and referring students in distress. We have already trained 851 faculty and staff members on how to assist students.
UHS has had the privilege of working with a dynamic group of students who have formed the UW Student Mental Health Coalition to increase awareness of mental health issues on campus, reduce the stigma of seeking help and prevent suicide. As part of the Suicide Prevention Grant, we will form the Suicide Prevention Council which will enable us to engage faculty/staff, students, parents, alums and members of the community to create the most comprehensive approach possible. Often students in distress do not come to services before parents, friends, faculty/staff and others notice they are struggling. For this reason, we need to engage everyone. At the current time, we offer immediate access to services and a 24-hour crisis line for students who need assistance.
It is understandable that with the announcement of the SAMHSA grant that some may think we have experienced an increase in suicides on campus. However, we have not. There is no report from the Big 10 that ranks schools on this statistic. UW is within the established range of 7.5 suicides per 100,000 students on all college campuses. Suicide is actually less common among students on college campuses, in part due to prevention efforts and community support. The reason there is no report or ranking of Big 10 schools is that there are very clear journalistic guidelines around how suicide is addressed publicly.
SAMHSA journalistic guidelines note reporting on or discussing the occurrence of suicide within a population increases the risk of suicide for the entire population. We also do not report on specific rates within a population because it results in the normalization of suicide as an option for others. The discussion of specific numbers within a population, because they are small numbers, can contribute to the reduction of resources for prevention efforts and result in thinking it is not a significant enough issue to address. Our stance is that even one death because of suicide is too many. The suicide of any student on our campus is something we all need to work on preventing.
We invite you to be a part of preventing the suicide of anyone in our community by partnering with us. Learn how to recognize the signs of student distress, respond in a way that demonstrates caring and refer students to resources on campus. Students need our help and they need your help too. Please contact us at 608-265-5600, option 2, if you want to learn about how you can be involved.
If you are a student who is experiencing thoughts about death or suicide, please come to UHS between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, or call 608-265-5600, option 9, and ask to speak with a counselor. If you need to speak with someone after hours, call our crisis line at 608-265-5600, option 2. Our services exist because we care about you and your well-being.
Danielle Oakley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the director of the University Health Service’s Mental Health Services.