By Mark Kobzik
UNH recently received The Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant which distributes approximately $100,000 a year for three years. This grant, sponsored by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), will help the Counseling Centers at all UNH campuses to deal with suicide prevention.
The UNH Counseling Center is the primary mental health service on campus. The center offers a number of free and confidential services including primarily short-term counseling, same-day emergency services and group counseling workshops coordinated by Dr. David Cross to help students, staff and faculty identify students at risk of suicide. This grant will increase the funding and time attributed to preventing suicide. Since 2005, an increase in student utilization of the Counseling Center at UNH has risen from 6 percent to 8.2 percent or about 1,265 students. According to Dr. Sean Moundas, staff psychologist and assistant director for outreach and assessment at the center, the increase in student utilization can possibly be attributed to the outreach by UNH to decrease stigma around the campuses.
In 2013, Cross was able to bring an online suicide prevention program called Kognito. Moundas said, “Kognito is evidence based, utilizes avatars so that participants can engage in hypothetical conversation with possible students of concerns and can be accessed for free for participants via campus… The GLS grant expands the Kognito programs to include peer LGBTQ+ and student veterans’ programs as well as a program for families and friends of student veterans.”
The stigma around mental health still persists in the United States, according to Moundas. “Depictions of people with mental health challenges in the media are often inaccurate and incomplete. One way that stigma manifests is that individuals often feel that seeking mental health concerns means that they should be ashamed or embarrassed when in fact, this can mean the opposite – seeking support can be a sign of awareness and strength.”
The grant will introduce a student organization that helps peers learn more information about mental health and how to reduce stigma and increase awareness on campus.
There are several organizations that deal with suicide prevention on campus. Along with the Counseling Center, there is the BIT (Behavioral Intervention Team), and The Campus Suicide Prevention Committee.
According to Moundas, “The overall aims of the GLS grant are to create more of a safety net for students by: expanding Kognito; conducting related outreach and promotion regarding these programs; facilitating follow-up dialogues about suicide prevention and mental health awareness; beginning a student group on campus that focuses on stigma reduction of mental health concerns and treatment; increasing accuracy of campus suicide related data, providing educational programming regarding suicide prevention that focuses on particularly vulnerable populations regarding suicide risk…”
As more people become aware of mental health issues and reject the ignominy surrounding it, the Counseling Center will become more effective in dealing with students who face depression and possibly suicide. The center has joined the national program called Know the Five Signs, which help peers identify people who might be at risk of suicide.
Moundas recommends, “It is also important not to leave a person alone who has made a threat of suicide and to contact immediate support via UNHCC ‘s main number… If the situation is an imminent emergency and especially if someone has already harmed themselves in some way, the police is the department to contact.”