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Community News
College Targets Substance Abuse To Prevent Student Suicides
Psychiatric News
Volume 41 Number 23 page 18-19

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 campus.

"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 wellness.

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 jedgerton@psych.org.▪

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