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The second-leading cause of death among college students is a public health concern that, unfortunately, many do not know enough about: suicide.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is not immune to suicide or its contributory factors. Data taken from the university’s participation in the National College Health Assessment in 2015 indicated that almost one-quarter of students have been diagnosed with or treated for a mental illness, and 7.7 percent of students seriously considered suicide. Furthermore, this problem is not isolated among students with mental illness. Nearly 42 percent of students on campus have witnessed or interacted with a person experiencing significant emotional distress or thoughts of suicide. But suicide is preventable, and these statistics can be changed.
In August, University Health Services (UHS) implemented a pilot version of At-Risk, an online suicide prevention program created by Kognito, to respond to student and faculty concerns and National College Health Assessment data that indicated a need for increased suicide prevention education.
Samantha North, a Suicide Prevention Program Assistant, says UHS receives requests from both students and faculty about what to do for a student who is in distress. “The goal is that At-Risk will help them be more prepared,” says North.
The interactive module teaches participants about the “three R’s” of suicide prevention: how to recognize a student in distress, respond accordingly, and refer the student to the appropriate campus or community resources. Along the way, participants are asked questions and given individualized feedback.
There are two versions of At-Risk: one for students and another for faculty and staff. While both programs have similar goals, they use different, relevant examples for each target group. For example, the faculty and staff version presents warning signs a staff member may see in an academic context, while the student version provides more social examples.
“Essentially, each version is tailored to the environment the participant would encounter a student in distress,” says North.
The NCHA data tells us that suicide is a more common issue than the typical college student may know, so preparedness and prevention are vital to making UW-Madison a healthy and supportive place. “We don’t think we’ll be in this situation until we’re in it,” says North. “Looking at statistics, we know it affects people more often than we think.”
Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that the student body and faculty are educated and prepared to host a supportive and compassionate environment for students in distress. “[At-Risk] is a proactive approach and a good way to learn how to easily support one another, and in some cases, may even save a life,” says North.
To complete At-Risk, go to uhs.wisc.edu/atrisk. Once registered, the program only takes a half-hour to complete. While At-Risk is available until August 2016, users who participate in the program by May 6, 2016 will be entered to win gift cards to the University Book Store.
- UHS Mental Health Crisis Line: 608-265-5600 (option 9)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- UHS Mental Health Counseling and Psychiatry Services: uhs.wisc.edu/mental-health
Written by Gina Nerone, UHS Web and Communications Assistant