NATCHITOCHES – Counseling professionals at Northwestern State University secured a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) intended to promote emotional health and suicide prevention among young adults.
The grant will support NSU Cares, an initiative to help students cope with the pressures of college life.
Rebecca Boone, a counselor in NSU’s Counseling and Career Services office, and Dr. Gerra Perkins, associate professor in the Department of Teaching, Leadership and Counseling, were principal investigators of the grant and project directors for NSU Cares.
Research by counseling and career service professionals shows an increase in both the number of college students seeking services and in the severity of mental disorders over the past four years. Those trends are reflected in reports by the American College Counseling Association.
“The purpose of NSU Cares is to create a prevention-prepared campus community in which suicide completion becomes a ‘never event’ at Northwestern State University,” Perkins said. Perkins has in the past incorporated suicide prevention education and awareness into the counseling curriculum in the form of service-learning projects that address bullying and destructive behaviors among youngsters.
There have been no student suicides in the past five years at NSU, Boone noted, but students and faculty members have dealt with the aftermath of suicides in their families and among their friends. However, results of the CORE Alcohol and Drug Survey administered during the spring semester of 2013 revealed that 1.7 percent of responding NSU students shared that they had attempted suicide while under the influence of drinking or drug use, a percentage is higher than the 1.2 percent of the reference group reported by Suicide Prevention Resource Center in the fact sheet Suicides among College and University Students in the United States.
Boone said there are many warning signs but it is important to know that often there are no apparent outward signs for individuals most at risk. A few of the warning signs include talking about suicide, statements about hopelessness or worthlessness, depression, withdrawal from family and friends, preoccupation with death, an individual seeming suddenly happier or calmer, lost of interest in things one previously cared about, visiting or calling friends to covertly say goodbye, setting affairs in order or giving things away.
NSU Cares has four main goals: to increase the connectedness of mental health services with university and community departments and agencies to promote the message that suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility; to provide gatekeeper training to the campus community to recognize, approach and refer students in distress; to provide online training, outreach and support to both online and face-to-face students, faculty/staff and families of students through seminars designed to educate participants on suicide and other mental/behavioral health issues, reduce stigma and encourage help-seeking and create a culture of caring, wellness and hope.
“It is very exciting to know that the hard work we put into planning and writing the grant has borne fruit and that we will be able to implement the program as we envisioned it,” Boone said.