In a sea of more than 43,000 students, a University of Wisconsin program focusing on suicide prevention is hoping to teach Badgers to care for one another.
Umatter, an initiative within University Health Services, aims to spread awareness about mental health and suicide prevention so students know the resources available on campus and how to look out for their peers.
Valerie Kowis, suicide prevention coordinator with Umatter, said she wants to help raise awareness of mental health issues throughout the community, especially for staff and students to learn to notice warning signs of students in distress.
“We really do expect Badgers to look out for one another,” Kowis said. “I just think that the key message is, that if they themselves or a friend is in crisis, there are services here, there are people on campus that want to help.”
As a primary prevention program, Umatter helps provide education to members of the UW community and promotes the various mental health services offered at UHS.
Danielle Oakley, director of Mental Health Services at UHS, is in charge of overseeing the intervention services provided by UHS.
She said the best way that UHS can help people with mental health is to help them access campus services. She said students can come to the 7th floor of UHS between 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, or they can call the UHS 24-hour crisis line. She said this is open so that students have access to help at all hours, whether its at night, a weekend or the holidays.
UHS also provides psychiatry, and individual and group counseling to those struggling with mental health issues, Oakley said. Students may be referred to a mental health provider, who will see them on the medical floor. According to Oakley, UHS sees around 10 percent of the student body in mental health services each year, highlighting the importance of these programs.
Oakley said she believes early intervention is a main component in the effort to combat depression and various mental health issues.
“That’s part of suicide prevention, keeping it so that we recognize things early, get someone in treatment, and that they don’t have to go down the line and be in a situation where the student is really in crisis,” Oakley said.
If a student has to leave the school for mental health issues, UHS works directly with UW to help support the student, she said. If they return home, a care manager will help them access services at home, and Oakley said when they get back to campus, they are connected to services so they can stay in mental health treatment.
These programs allow students to help get back to an academic track to graduation, Oakley said. She said with these services, UHS helps students manage their mental health issues so that they can stay in school.
At-Risk, introduced by Umatter, is an online training program designed to train staff and students to recognize signs of students in distress, so they know how to communicate and make an effective referral.
Along with At-Risk is the Red Folder program. Similar to At-Risk, the Red Folder is a program designed to help recognize students in distress, and help make referrals to services on campus, Oakley said. It is an in-person training that takes around 15 minutes. According to Oakley, faculty and staff are often the first to notice students are struggling, and have the ability to get them to appropriate services faster.
Ask.Listen.Save., a student organization that focuses on suicide prevention on campus, holds an annual Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention walk during the spring semester.
Stephanie Dietz, president of Ask.Listen.Save., said the UW suicide prevention walk has led the charge, holding the number one spot in the nation for campus suicide prevention walk fundraising. The 2013 walk at UW raised $39,000 dollars for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, she said.
Dietz said she got involved with Ask.Listen.Save. her freshman year. Now a senior at UW majoring in psychology, Dietz said it is important for people to get past stigma of mental health so students feel comfortable talking about it.
“Whether it’s something personal, whether you know someone, it’s still okay to talk about the topic. And that’s something we are really trying to get students to be okay with … We can’t just ignore it. We have to be able to talk about it, bring it to light, so we can start making strides to lowering suicide rates among college students,” Dietz said.