A University of Buffalo project received a three-year grant of more than
$193,000 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
(SAMHSA) to address substance abuse and suicidal behavior on campus.
The program, Project UB WEll (Wellness Enhanced Living and Learning), was
developed by the counseling and Wellness Education Services, part of the
Student Wellness Team at the university.
"We are hoping to prevent and proactively identify students at risk
for suicide and intervene early," Sharon Mitchell, Ph.D., the
university's director of counseling, told Psychiatric News. "We
want to develop a community-based approach by training lay people on
campus—faculty, staff, and residential-life personnel—to be
gatekeepers and to be knowledgeable about resources for intervening on the
"We want to create a UB campus where students can identify the
effects of their stress, and where faculty, staff, and the community are
skilled in identifying people at risk, and where students know where to go if
they feel at risk for mental-health problems or are thinking about harming
themselves," she said.
Mitchell did not have data on the number of suicides that have occurred at
the 27,000-student campus, but said it appeared that the number was well below
the average for U.S. college campuses, which is itself below the national
average for college-age individuals.
A study reported in the fall 1997 Suicide and Life-Threatening
Behavior found that the overall student suicide rate of 7.5/100,000 in
the "Big Ten" schools was half of the computed national suicide
rate of 15/100,000 for a population matched by age, gender, and race.
Approximately 1,100 young adults kill themselves in the nation's colleges and
universities each year (Psychiatric News, June 2).
But mitchell said that there have been a substantial number of suicide
attempts and hospitalizations and that substance abuse is often a contributing
factor. In some cases, however, it is difficult to determine if overdoses or
injuries that occur in association with substance abuse are accidental or
intentional, she said.
And she agrees with other campus mental health experts that while suicide
is not more likely to occur on college campus than anywhere else—and
that college may actually be protective—it is nevertheless an ideal
place to try to prevent it.
SAMHSA funding will help support QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer)
suicide-prevention training for faculty, staff, students, parents, and local
mental-health service workers. QPR training is an educational program that
teaches how to recognize a mental health emergency and get the person at risk
the appropriate help.
Funds also will support a public awareness program known as"
Inside-Out." This campaign will involve a series of interactive,
psychoeducational programs that will use such creative mediums as poetry,
music, art, theater, and dialogue to reduce students' social isolation and
emotional distress, and get them to be active participants in their
APA Trustee David Fassler, M.D., who was co-chair along with Rachel Glick,
M.D., of an APA task force on college mental health, said attention to the
subject of campus mental health is overdue.
"I'm glad to see that SAMHSA is focusing attention on college mental
health," he said. "It's an area that's been neglected for much too
long. APA also has clear and consistent policies underscoring the need for
expanded access to comprehensive mental health services on college campuses.
We have also been active in efforts to eliminate policies that discriminate
against students who seek psychiatric treatment."
The task force is now a corresponding committee under the Council on
children, adolescents, and Their Families and is chaired by Gerald Kay, M.D.
Fassler and Glick continue to be members of the cor-responding committee.
Fassler said the committee has developed informational brochures on a range
of college mental health topics. "We also sponsor a caucus at the APA
annual meeting and a list serve for psychiatrists consulting to or working in
college mental health settings," he said. APA members who are interested
in joining the list serve can contact Jane Edgerton by e-mail at