Three University of Arizona students have died so far this year by suicide. On college campuses across the country, suicide is a growing concern.
The UA is one of 85 university and college campuses chosen to use grant money to study how to prevent suicide among college students.
Everyone hopes to never have to talk about suicide from personal experience, but it is likely to come up. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-aged students, and as of late college health professionals are seeing more persistent, more severe mental health problems.
"The focus on suicide and the numbers of students talking about suicide as something that they consider is higher than I have ever seen it in my career," Marian Binder, PhD the director of UA's Counseling and Psychiatric services said.
Binder has been with the department more than 30 years, and its director since 2004. As director, she helps lead training courses, taught with federal grant money from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to address the problem of suicide. The university received the three year grant in August of 2010, including matched funds the total grant is worth $434,941.
Part of the grant money is used in a two-hour "QPR Course." QPR stands for Question, Persuade, Refer. Students, faculty and staff who take the course learn how to help someone who may be considering taking their own life to get help.
"It kind of was new the way they suggest you present the question directly like that," UA sophomore John Doughty said about the way in which the course teaches to directly ask someone if they have thought of suicide. "I thought in doing so that would create a negative vibe, the person would over-react, get super defensive or whatever."
"If somebody is not feeling suicidal at all, if they don't see that as a solution and you say to them, 'Are you thinking about suicide?' Chances are they'll say 'No, what are you nuts? I am upset, but I'd never think about that,'" Dr. Binder said.
In the course, the point is made that by asking if someone is suicidal, the idea will not plant the idea in the person's mind.
A group of about a dozen or so UA Greek Life health advocates used roll play to try and ask the question, learning how to open a conversation and move someone beyond the thought that suicide is the only option.
"I think it is an issue relevant to students," UA sophomore Adam Crompton said. "I knew a couple friends in high school that had a problem with it. Certainly in the school setting it can be a problem with all the stresses that take place."
There were no reported suicides among UA students in 2010, one in 2011, four in 2012, and so far this year there have been three, according to the Campus Health Department. The numbers are relatively small, but Dr. Binder says they also are largely under-reported. Many cases occur off campus, and administrators never find out. Other reasons include that in cases of overdoses, or single-vehicle crashes, it is difficult to prove a death was a suicide.
"We know that suicide in general is not attached to a diagnoses per se, but to a feeling of hopelessness," Dr. Binder said.
A hopelessness that can be hard to understand unless you've been there.
The "QPR" model is the one the UA is using for its program now, and as part of the grant, the school is looking at whether it is the best model, and if there are better ways to reach people, specifically students.
So far, more than one thousand students, faculty and staff have received this training, but Campus Health officials say interest is growing in all parts of campus.
For more on suicide, and available resources in our area, visit the following links:
- Arizona Suicide Prevention Coalition: http://www.azspc.org/resources.html
- Arizona Suicide Prevention Alert: http://www.arizonasuicidepreventionalert.org/ASPAHotline.html
- Survivors of Suicide Tucson: http://www.sostucson.org/
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center: http://www.sprc.org/
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