“Our events aim to reach students and UConn community members who may not typically interact with CMHS,” Dr. Erin D. Cox, the Director of Outreach for UConn Counseling and Mental Health Services, said. “We work to educate students, faculty and staff on recognizing the warning signs that someone may be considering suicide, and the resources available to help – both here on campus as well as the state and national level.”
This year’s theme is “Look Up: Connection is Prevention.” The events encourage students to look up at what is going on with their peers and to look up and connect with nature.
“We look up to others in the field who are making a difference on a global level, such as our keynote speaker Jamie Tworkowski, who founded To Write Love on Her Arms,” Cox said.
The UConn Suicide Prevention Committee is hosting a free showing of “To Write Love on Her Arms” Thursday at 6:00 p.m. in Laurel Hall 101. The movie tells the story of a young woman who struggles with addiction, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts before entering a rehabilitation facility.
Other events during the week include an Out of Darkness community walk, a guided meditation in the forest, a presentation from a bird rehabilitation center, a conversation with Dr. Laura Saunders about LGBTQIA mental health issues and a Student Voices Panel among other events listed on the event website.
“Hopefully, through participating in these events, students will connect with one another and learn more about how to help those who are struggling,” Cox said.
Cox said CMHS is always looking at how it can improve its services for students and recently adopted two new suicide prevention training programs. HELPS is an in-person group training program and Ask Listen Refer is an online training module.
“We truly believe in the idea that connection is prevention, and thus much of our community-based work revolves around this theme,” Cox said.
Cox said one of the major problems in suicide prevention efforts in the country right now is that people do not seek out help from a mental health professional.
“Many researchers and clinical providers attribute this, at least in part, due to stigma around mental health issues, or lack of knowledge or means to seek the help needed,” Cox said. “Much of our suicide prevention efforts, both at CMHS and within the UConn Suicide Prevention Committee, aim to combat these barriers.”
CMHS uses the JED program’s model as a base for suicide prevention programs on campus. The JED Foundation works to provide young adults with the resources necessary to cope with mental health issues.
“I think the timing of National Suicide Prevention month at the beginning of the academic school year is good because… transitional periods can be very tough,” Lee Swain, the Director of the JED Campus program said. “I think it’s important to talk about it early on in the semester because early intervention is really important.”
The JED campus program emphasizes training everyone on college campuses to act as “gatekeepers” who can identify warning signs of someone who may be struggling with mental health issues.
“Everyone on a college campus should be trained to identify when there are lower-level issues going on, and then the training should equip people with the skills to intervene and then refer them to the appropriate resources,” Swain said.
Students should feel comfortable approaching a peer they suspect may be contemplating suicide, according to Swain
“That is a critical step in suicide prevention, showing care for your friends,” Swain said. “For your peers, that’s the biggest thing they can do to help their peers and help their community because no one is going to say anything wrong.”
Swain hopes the culture of college campuses will change to engage more members of the community in suicide prevention efforts.
“It shouldn’t just fall to the counseling center or staff members in student affairs, everyone should take care of each other and see that as their responsibility,” Swain said.
Cox hopes CMHS’s work will make a difference for students.
“Suicide is preventable, and ultimately, we hope to that our work will reach those at risk,” Cox said.