I believe that college leaders need to get involved with this issue because it is something that is incredibly prevalent but unspoken about especially on college campuses. I have had personal experience with suicide as my aunt and college-aged cousin both took their own lives. After these incidences I realized that this is a huge problem that is still largely undiscussed and not acknowledged. People seem scared and reluctant to talk about it, but discussing it is the only way we can resolve the issue. I hope that my involvement will give people courage and a willingness to acknowledge the issue and reach out to others in need.
Janet Cox, The BACCHUS Network Vice President/COO
With more than 19 million Americans suffering from depression or anxiety disorders, student leaders can reduce the stigma and use education and outreach to inform and help those suffering to seek treatment. Peer educators, resident assistants, mental health advocates, and others can play a major role in providing accurate information on the issues and removing barriers to getting professional help.
Student peer leadership can be a key to raising awareness of mental health issues on campus. Peer education and mentoring are very important parts of the college experience, and have proven to be effective outreach methods for many different issues including mental health and wellness. Peer educators are also the type of leaders needed on an all-college committee as they have good perspective on attitudes and previous experience in dealing with challenging health behaviors.
Those close to students need to be informed and know what to look for and where students can go for help. Trained peer educators can conduct many activities and can be very effective in promoting key resources on and off campus involving other groups, such as the university mental health and wellness coalition, the local Mental Health America affiliate, the university counseling service and/or the student health service.
If you are considering adding mental health to your prevention work consider the following:
Engaging Student Programs: Consider month-by-month campaigns on mental health. Invite an educational speaker to campus. Look at some of the step-by-step programs listed under the education link of this website.
Bulletin Boards: Create a bulletin board to educate residence halls/floors/houses about mental health and resources. Possible topics include defining depression, warning signs, stress reduction strategies, and how to support a friend in seeking help. One eye-catching bulletin board posts the faces of famous celebrities who have all been open about their struggles with bipolar disorder, depression and other mental disorders. Ask the viewers – “What do these people have in common?” They are successful AND they have experienced a mental illness.
Student Press and Media: Address the issues of campus mental health through articles and editorials in the student newspaper. Campus radio or TV stations can invite trained professionals and peer educators to appear on talk shows.
No matter what outreach is offered, be sure to collaborate with campus and local mental health providers, provide students with resource information such as contact information for local mental health providers and crisis hotlines (i.e., the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) and have trained professionals available at your programs.
- Overcoming internalized fears: How will people perceive me as a student leader if I am a mental health advocate?
- When leaders become stressed and suicidal – walking on the high tightrope.
- Becoming a suicide prevention gatekeeper.
- Creating effective programs on campus: Creating a Grassroots Student Mental Health Advocacy Group and Creating Safe Zones & Hope Zones
- Losing a Friend to suicide
For more information, please check out the following links.
- Get a mental health program manual from the BACCHUS Network.
- Ad Council “What a Difference a Friend Makes” – broadcast these PSAs
- Learn about mental illness
- Start a mental health grassroots advocacy group on your campus – Active Minds on Campus.
- Learn about how to help a friend – watch this interactive video.
- Learn about the role of college students in preventing suicide.
- The Truth About Suicide: Real Stories of College Depression (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
Resources for survivors of suicide loss:
- SOS Handbook
- On-line resources including discussion boards