University Health Services hopes to soon be better equipped to address suicide prevention on campus after receiving a several thousand dollar national grant earmarked for prevention efforts.

UHS Director Sarah Van Orman said the department obtained a three-year Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant totaling $306,000 from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to aid in suicide prevention.

The program helps identify gaps in the university’s current suicide prevention program and addresses ways to fill those gaps, Van Orman said.

UHS has outline a number of goals for its suicide prevention program and UHS Counseling and Consultation Services Director Danielle Oakley said the grant will hopefully help fulfill those goals. 

“Our goal is to have every single person on campus able to recognize a student in distress, respond appropriately and refer them to the right resources,” Oakley said.

Finding ways to help all at-risk students by educating community members on how to effectively reach out to people in trouble is a major goal of the program, she said.

Van Orman cited a strategy called “gatekeeper training” as an effective means to address depression. The training involves providing necessary training to staff and student leaders.  

Gatekeeper training is aimed at faculty, staff, students and anyone in the community who can touch a student, she said.

“We want them to have the skills necessary to talk to someone who is struggling,” Van Orman said.

Another main goal of the grant is to form a council of people related to the campus, including students, parents, teachers, alumni, staff and community members, in order to better reach out to students considering suicide, Van Orman said.

“We want to make sure that everyone who is there can represent the best ways to meet their needs,” Oakley said.

Van Orman said the grant hopes to increase the number of struggling students that seek help. This can be done through methods such as marketing campaigns to reduce the stigma around suicide and encouraging help-seeking behavior, she added.

“One of the things that is always important is we want to understand from the students what works best,” Oakley said. “They are our best resource. The grant will help us look out for one another.”

Part of the grant money will go toward helping members of the LGBT community, minorities and immigrants who are at an elevated risk for suicide, Van Orman said. There will be special focus groups to understand the needs and gaps in these communities with particular focus on looking for ways to reduce barriers, she added.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students, Oakley said. Nationwide, more than 1,000 students commit suicide each year, she added.

A common risk factor for suicide is depression, a mental illness that commonly affects college-aged people, according to the National Institutes for Health website.

Almost 30 percent of college students reported being “so depressed it was difficult to function,” and 6 percent of college students seriously considered suicide, according to the website.

Van Orman and Oakley both expressed their excitement about the grant, the positive impact it will have for students on campus and the positive reactions about the grant from the campus. Housing, police, UHS and the Madison community in general are all very excited, Van Orman added.