Bringing Suicide Awareness to the Mainstream BY NICKY SMIT
CONTENT WARNING : DISCUSSIONS OF SUICIDE
Week of Events on
For the first time at Puget Sound, students are organizing a series of events centered on suicide awareness and prevention.
On Friday, March 25, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., a forum is being held where multiple speakers will discuss their personal experience with suicidal thoughts and attempts. Each speaker will also present a group activity to further educate and engage attendees.
“It was astounding to me how much people want to talk about this,” sophomore Nathaniel Baniqued said. “My own preconception was that people would be afraid to talk about this because it is such a sensitive subject. So when people stepped up to the plate and said, ‘No Nathan, let me talk about this, this is something I really want,’ I was like, holy crap.”
Baniqued is the President of Men of Color and the architect behind this inspirational event. One of his reasons for pursuing greater student discussion about suicide is to bring people together by helping diverse groups recognize what they have in common.
“Suicide is so prevalent among [the population] no matter what group you self-identify as,” Baniqued said. “No matter where you go you’ll find people—coworkers, family members, friends—that may be dealing with suicidal thoughts.”
To further the goal of unity, various clubs will host talks on suicide prevention during the week leading up to the forum.
Baniqued wanted the week of events to have a lasting impact, and that meant reaching out to as many students as possible and forming an inclusive environment. Many of the speakers are indeed fellow students who were confronted with suicidal ideation.
“I see myself as a catalyst to allow these people the opportunity to really speak out about suicide and their own experience, to provide that platform for them to go and announce it and have a nice and deep talk about it,” Baniqued said.
Any club interested in joining the discussion should contact Baniqued, who will work closely to help develop an activity the club wants to produce.
of NAMI on Campus
This year has seen a fantastic explosion in student involvement with suicide prevention. Besides aiding in the development of the upcoming suicide forum, sophomore Anna Goebel also founded the University’s first chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI).
Research suggests that students are far more likely to talk to a peer about suicide than to an advisor or counselor. Yet, until last December, Puget Sound had no student-lead programs providing this support.
“There were not a lot of resources on campus and definitely not a lot of peer-to-peer support – or even conversation,” Goebel said. “I just wanted to see it become a little more normalized and also provide that peer-to-peer support, because I believe there’s a stigma, and a lack of support is a big barrier to getting help.”
NAMI meets every Thursday at 8 p.m. in the Psychology Library, second floor of Weyerhauser. The chapter is an incredible resource for bringing conversation, education and support to all mental illnesses—last week’s discussion centered on eating disorders.
“Our goal is to make it inclusive. We’re not here to make diagnoses, we’re here to support each other in whatever their going through,” Goebel said. “Statistically, nationally, one in four [people] will have a mental illness in their lifetime. And if they don’t have it as a struggle, the likelihood that one of their friends or family members is struggling is really, really high.”
Understandably, Goebel cites the biggest problems getting in the way of suicide prevention are basic education, knowledge of resources and social stigma.
“More people need to know what to do if a friend comes to them expressing thoughts of suicide,” Goebel said. “That’s something we’re trying to do as a chapter. There are ways on this campus to report it, and people have to not be afraid to report it, because as much as it could have a negative effect on your friendship, what matters more is their well-being and life.”
Step in Helping
It’s the sorry truth that most students don’t know what to do when confronted with suicidal behavior. There is a form, called the Suicide Incident Report (SIR), that one can and should fill out in the case that they hear suicidal threats or ideation, or see an attempt at self-harm.
Filling out this form will have the student begin the Mandated Assessment of Risk of Suicidality and Self Harm (MARSSH) protocol. At its heart, a team of professionals review the report and if they find it necessary, require the student to participate in four sessions of psychological assessment.
Goebel very much supports the MARSSH protocol, as well as Director of Counseling, Health and Wellness Services (CHWS) Donn Marshall, who helped implement it here on campus in 2004.
Marshall is a mini hero in the realm of suicide prevention. It’s his passion, and he’s often called away to other universities to help them improve their own protocols. He was invited onto the Washington State task force to gather information on suicide numbers on college campuses, and he’s also conducting research on suicide intervention with Professor Kirchner of the University’s School of Education. To him, the MARSSH protocol has benefits that far outweigh the burden of four session visits.
“What we hope is that at those four sessions the student comes to find the relationship with the therapist meaningful and they choose to continue, but they’re under no obligation. Something like 68 percent of students decided to keep going for more than four visits, which says to me that many of them found the connection meaningful,” Marshall said. “I’m willing to get people in the door and discover that they don’t really feel like they need help, in order to catch the one person who does and wouldn’t have gotten there themselves.”
However, having the protocol isn’t enough to prevent more suicides. Students have to first recognize suicidal behavior and then be willing to make a report. Right now, many students are lacking the knowledge of resources or have fallen prey to the stigma that they should remain quiet about their peer’s struggles. Others likely believe that bad things would befall their friend if they told the administration.
“There are other schools who make the wrong-headed stand that if a student is suicidal they are not able to be part of the community right now and need to be gone. And we really feel the opposite, that it’s a signal that a student is in need of additional support and we owe it to ourselves and to them to see if we can provide that,” Marshall said.
Due to the stigma against getting help, Marshall says students often follow a common script of, at first, feeling upset with their peer for reporting them, and in the end, relieved because they knew they couldn’t get themselves to seek help on their own.
know how to help
Many students may wonder who currently is trained in recognizing suicidal behavior and responding knowledgeably. Fortunately, the answer is a large and growing section of the student body.
For years, student Residence Life (Res Life) staff—which includes Resident Assistants (RAs) and Resident Community Coordinations (RCCs)—have been receiving extensive training from CHWS on suicide prevention. More recently, training has been extended to student staff at the Center for Intercultural and Civic Engagement (CICE), orientation leaders, workers at the info center, Greek Life executives, and even campus security.
As much as Marshall wishes he could provide proper suicide prevention training to all students, the funding is just not there. This makes the student-led suicide prevention initiatives all the more important.
Baniqued has long-term goals for suicide prevention on campus. Specifically, to begin a gatekeeper program.
“Gatekeeper is a term used to describe anyone in the community who has the training to deal with situations like ‘hey, do you have suicidal thoughts?’ They’re equipped with that knowledge and that training to have those difficult conversations with those who may potentially be suicidal,” said Baniqued.
Extending access to suicide prevention training to all students is a noble cause. It will not only help those suffering from suicidal thoughts receive help sooner but also foster a greater sense of community and awareness to each others emotions.
For now, however, a more select group of students respond to the majority of cases. The students who encounter suicidal incidents the most often on campus are undoubtedly those involved with Res Life.
Rachel Anderson, a junior and RCC, has nothing but praise for the system, and encourages people to talk to her.
“A friend might say ‘oh, I should not report that because they’d want it to be confidential,’ that’s a misconception people have,” Anderson said. “A good friend might keep it confidential, but a great friend would bring it to people who could help.”
“There’s a stigma that you have a problem if suicide is on your mind. That shouldn’t be the case. Just because you’re struggling, you’re not bad. Because you’re struggling we can be there for you. And not in a savior mentality,” Anderson said.
Having experienced quite a few incidents herself, Anderson gives an important piece of advice to anyone who feels someone they know may be suicidal.
“It’s been proven that it does not put people more at risk if you ask the question ‘are you considering suicide?’” Anderson said. “That is so helpful because then typically people are willing to answer that question and that opens the door.”
Opening the door is what suicide prevention is all about. Don’t be afraid to ask the question if you’re worried. Don’t be afraid to tell others and seek help. This campus has many passionate and knowledgeable individuals who will do the right thing.
The University has a very considerate system in place. The system of support is growing too, with new student groups and events spreading education to every corner of our campus and undoing the silence brought by the unwanted stigma.
Any conversation on suicide is a good one. Please take care.