In establishing a network of mental health awareness and support, campus professionals must first understand policies that influence these issues. The following are a list of questions that are important to review as a campus or coalition.
- Does the campus have a policy surrounding procedures for identifying students who may require mental health services?
- What are the responsibilities of campus personnel who may refer students for mental health services?
- What are the responsibilities of campus personnel surrounding follow-up with students who have been referred for mental health services?
- Does the campus currently have a policy in place to ensure the health and safety of an individual student as well as the overall health of the classroom? For example, what protocol is in place if a professor receives a student assignment that indicates a student is at risk for suicide or violence?
- What legal issues may influence the student and campus? For example, does the campus currently have a policy surrounding providing medical leave for students needing mental health treatment? Can the university require that a student receive treatment and what legal issues are present?
- How do current policies take into account the Americans with Disabilities Act?
- What is the campus policy on involving a student’s family and how does this impact confidentiality?
- Is there a policy in place that addresses academic issues such as allowing for make-up exams for students experiencing a significant mental health crisis?
- Does the campus currently have an anti-discrimination policy detailed in the student Code of Conduct? What is this policy and how does it take into account the complexity of disciplinary issues?
For more information on legal and policy issues, please review the article The Emerging Crisis of College Student Suicide: Law and Policy Responses to Serious Forms of Self-Inflicted Injury by Peter Lake and Nancy Tribbensee (2002).
All policies should be reviewed by the University Legal Council prior to being implemented.
Recommended Resource: The Jed Foundation Framework.
In creating a campus environment of mental health awareness, it is necessary to review current emergency response procedures. As a coalition or campus community, these policies should be frequently revisited to ensure the health and safety of all students and campus personnel. In examining your campus emergency response procedures, be sure to address the following questions:
- What are the current policies in place for the identification and referral of students who are at risk for self-harm?
- What steps should be taken if a student attempts or completes suicide in a residence hall?
- What immediate support services are available for fellow residents and/or students impacted by the suicide attempt or completion of a peer?
- What current policies are in place to address a threat or act of violence on campus? How will information be released, what is the chain of communication, and what areas of campus may be closed?
- If violence is threatened or takes place on campus, what support services will be made for students to help ensure their mental health?
- If an event of local, state, national, or global significance occurs and directly impacts the mental health of students, what services will be made available?
Means Restriction Matters
Limiting access to lethal means of self-harm can be an effective strategy for suicide prevention. Sometimes suicidal behaviors are impulsive and by making access to means more difficult, campuses can give people more time and space between a suicidal crisis and an irrevocable decision. One study asked people who survived nearly-lethal suicide attempts: “How much time passed between the time you decided to contemplate suicide and when you actually attempted suicide?” 24% said less than five minutes. If campuses can get people through their suicidal crisis by preventing them access to lethal means, the chance of recovery is great: 90% of survivors of near-lethal suicide attempts do not end up completing suicide.
In the general population firearms are the common method of suicide completions in the United States, followed by suffocation, poisoning, and falls. Several studies have indicated that having a firearm in the home significantly increases the risk of completed suicide, and stricter gun control laws have been followed by a decrease both in homicide and suicide. The suicide rate may be lower for college students because campuses prohibit firearms.
Following a series of five suicides, New York University began developing physical barriers to deny access to jumping off campus sites. The Golden Gate Bridge is the leading suicide location worldwide, but legislation has recently passed to construct a barrier.
Campus safety personnel should consider which means of suicide might be more accessible on their campuses and look to provide education, policy and technology to prevent access to those means.
On the bridge, Baldwin counted to ten and stayed frozen. He counted to ten again, then vaulted over. “I still see my hands coming off the railing,” he said. As he crossed to chord in flight, Baldwin recalls, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable – except for having just jumped.”
- Simon, O., Swann, A., Powell, K., Potter, L, Kresnow, M, & O’Carroll, P (2001).
- Characteristics of impulsive suicide attempts and attempters.
- Suicide and Life–Threatening Behavior, 32(1 Suppl), 49–59.
- Swahn, M. & Potter, L. (2001). Factors associated with the medical severity of suicide attempts in youths and young adults. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 32(1) 21-29.
- Spielmann, G. (2005). Means restriction. Retrieved on December 23, 2007 from http://www.omh.state.ny.us/omhweb/savinglives/Volume2/means_rest.html.