University of South Carolina

USC invests in suicide prevention

By Liz White, lwhite@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-2848

“Have you thought about committing suicide?”

It’s not an easy thing to ask someone. Often people are too uncomfortable to ask. If they do, they’ll ask vague questions, using words like “harm” over “kill.”

That’s why the suicide prevention gatekeeper training offered by USC’s Counseling and Human Development Center is so important.  

 “Going through that training definitely empowers you in a way that helps you to ask that question – ‘Are you considering suicide?’” said Devin Moss, who works in the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. “It empowers you in a way that allows you to ask that question because you know by asking that question you are potentially saving someone.”

Jennifer Myers, coordinator of suicide prevention services in the Counseling and Human Development Center, hopes to create more suicide gatekeepers like Moss on campus.

“One of the biggest reasons suicide prevention is important is because I think people are afraid to talk about suicide and I think people often miss signs that someone might be suicidal, which means that we have deaths that potentially could be preventable,” she said.  “Deeper and broader than that is having a culture of caring on campus, and isn’t that what being a Gamecock is all about?”

Suicide is never easy to talk about. At the gatekeeper training sessions Myers directs, opening the dialogue about suicide is key. Faculty, staff and students are taught what sort of warning signs to look for and how to approach such a sensitive situation head-on.  

“I think there’s an individual anxiety about, ‘I’m not sure what I would do if this person is suicidal.’ And sometimes the person feels like another person’s life is in their hands,” Myers said.

That’s why she hosts the gatekeeper trainings. It’s a way to teach individuals in this situation exactly what to do if someone does say he/she is suicidal. It’s also a way to let people know that no one person is responsible, Myers said.

“It’s a community responsibility to take care of one another,” she said. “As a part of the Carolina community we take care of all parts of each other. If someone walked in bleeding, you would offer them some assistance. We should recognize who is bleeding on the inside and offer them some assistance.” 

This semester Myers has scheduled six open trainings. (The next session is Oct. 5 at 1 p.m. For more dates, times and to register click here.)

She also does trainings for specific groups, classes or any organization that is interested.  Myers, who started working at USC last October, has trained more than 600 individuals in suicide prevention at USC.

“Most people have been receptive, especially when they understand that suicide prevention is just being there for someone and talking about mental health issues in general,” she said. “I think our community here really wants to care for one another.”

The American College Health Association’s 2010 National College Health Assessment findingssuggest that 5 percent of USC students seriously consider suicide in a given year, Myers said. The 2010 assessment also found that 41 percent of USC students felt things were hopeless in a given year while 54 percent reported feeling very lonely.

“If you’re teaching for a number of years, you might run into one of those students,” she said. “I think it’s important to know how to handle that and I think it helps academically to intervene early, know what the resources are, so that the faculty and staff here can really focus on academics.”

Moss, who signed up for the training because his role as coordinator of LGBT programs involves students that face a higher risk of suicide, said everyone at USC should be aware of how to handle the issue and what resources Carolina provides.

“Whether we make it a big issue or not, it’s a need that has to be addressed,” he said. “When we look at our students holistically and really truly challenging and supporting them to be better individuals, then we have to take a stake in knowing what individuals are facing on our college campus. We have to be able to come to the rescue for our students.”

USC, with its 45,000 students across the state is like a small city, and with that size population there are individuals who might seek to harm themselves. So the university has invested in suicide prevention as a way to take care of students and their mental health needs, Myers said 

“The administration has been really supportive of suicide prevention efforts and they really believe in caring for the whole person of a student, so to me that’s been important,” she said.  

The university has a comprehensive suicide prevention plan and the gatekeeper training is just a small piece of USC’s mental health awareness on campus. Carolina is also committed to being proactive about violence in general, as with the Stand-up Carolina campaign that is meant to spread awareness and empowerment throughout campus by encouraging people to be responsible for their peers individually and collectively.

“The larger issue is talking about mental health issues in an open way. I don’t think it’s helpful to just talk about suicide,” Myers said. “It’s fairly normal to struggle with depression and anxiety and it doesn’t have to be such a big deal to talk to someone about it.”

Her biggest piece of advice:  “Pay attention to the people around you and if you notice something, ask them, connect with them, talk with them.”

Together we can prevent suicide

People should not be afraid to ask about suicide or other mental health issues, Myers said. Part of the gatekeeper training is learning what signs to look for to show someone needs help. 

 

“When people show signs of distress, it’s an invitation for you to ask them about it,” Myers said.

 

A few signs to look for: 

  • Ideation or expressing thoughts of suicide
  • Substance Abuse
  • Purposelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Trapped
  • Hopelessness
  • Withdrawal
  • Anger
  • Recklessness
  • Mood Change 

 

For more on warning signs visit this website

 

If you notice someone with these signs, talk with them and encourage them to seek help.

 

Students, faculty and staff can call the Counseling & Human Development Center for help at 803-777-5223 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can also call 911 from any campus landline and be directed to the USC Police Department.

 

If a person refuses assistance, file a report with the Behavioral Intervention Team at sc.edu/bit or call the counseling center to ask about how to help. 

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Posted: 10/01/12 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 10/03/12 @ 1:08 PM | Permalink