“My heart broke,” said Allison Pettis, a first-year nutrition student at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) who previously lost a family member to suicide. “Just hearing that someone else on campus was going through the same thing, my first instinct was fear for the family; fear for the person inside the car… It was just a lot of emotions going on.”
“When I found out it was a suicidal person, I was pretty upset and it really shook my [roommate],” junior music education major Emma Eafrati told The New Hampshire. “It’s really upsetting to hear when someone is going through that.”
“We need to take care of ourselves and each other,” senior history and International Affairs major Brianna Kretkowski said. “I hope the person involved gets the care they need and knows that people care about them.”
“All I really wanted to know was, like, if the kid was okay and making sure that he was somewhere safe afterwards,” Evelyn Moss said while talking about the emergency alerts she received on Sunday night, March 31. The first-year transfer student studying neuroscience and behavior has also lost a loved one to suicide.
At approximately 9:10 p.m. on Sunday night, UNH students, faculty and staff were notified of an “active police incident” at the West Edge Lot. Soon before the first alert was sent, Eafrati was returning to the lot with her roommate to park their car when a police officer told them to leave as the officer and others were closing the lot. Kretkowski was also parking her car while police officers were first responding to the scene.
“Sunday evening, March 31, UNH police responded to a report of a suicidal male in a parked car with a gun. The car was parked in the West Edge lot. Alerts were sent to the entire university community and some units in the nearby Lodges were evacuated to a common room out of an abundance of caution. The Strafford County SWAT team with a negotiator responded and successfully diffused the situation. The male was taken into protective custody and the incident remains under investigation,” UNH Spokesperson Erika Mantz wrote in an emailed statement. UNH Police declined to comment and referred all questions to Mantz. An “all clear” notification was sent to the campus at 11:22 p.m.
For students at UNH and across college campuses, mental health has been a rising concern among young people. UNH ranks as one of the safest college campuses in the country, but what unfolded on Sunday night has reignited conversations around mental health for students and faculty alike.
“I believe suicide is 100 percent preventable,” Director of UNH’s Psychological and Counseling Services (PACS) Shari Robinson, Ph.D., said. “I never want to hear a student, or in this instance a former student… has reached that level of distress or emotional psychological pain that they would consider hurting themselves.” The director of PACS was incredibly saddened upon hearing what was happening. But she stressed there are options available for students both on and off campus.
PACS is currently overseeing efforts of a suicide prevention program on campus. Robinson talked about a “suicide preventions council” made up of about 20 faculty, staff and students at UNH who meet monthly to create a more comprehensive suicide prevention plan.
“One of the strategies that we have put in place is that we do provide QPR [question, persuade, refer] training that we are offering here on our campus,” Robinson said. About 30 people across campus have been certified as a QPR trainer. “We have the capacity to really engage the entire campus with 30 trainers.”
Robinson said at last count since the training was rolled out last spring, about 550 people on campus are QPR trained. This includes students and faculty members. Yet, Robinson said their goal is in the next three years to have everyone at UNH QPR trained.
“The goal is that we want everyone [to be trained],” Robinson said. “If you go through the QPR training, then hopefully it helps you to identify signs that somebody’s in distress and also help to give you the languaging to approach that person in a way that’s compassionate and sensitive.”
“If people don’t know what to look for, when somebody is in distress, then how can we expect them to intervene appropriately?” Robinson asked.
Not all people have the same warning signs of mental distress. If someone appears hopeless, talk about hopelessness, giving away their possessions or not spending as much time with friends can all be warning signs. They might start to isolate themselves, or act in ways that aren’t characteristic of their normal personality. More clear warning signs include talking about hurting themselves or physically acting on those thoughts. Even a recent traumatic event can trigger abnormal thoughts and tendencies.
“All the signs don’t show on all people,” Robinson said. “Anyone that may be acting out of their norm, or strange or odd or unusual behavior.”
Robinson addressed a common feeling among people dealing with someone who may be showing some of the signs. She believes we live in a community where Wildcats care for each other, and it’s a myth that if someone is feeling suicidal you should not ask them.
“No, we want you to ask,” Robinson exclaimed. While she said you don’t have to directly ask the person your burning question, rather, “Point out the behavior that’s concerning you and then ask.”
Robinson stressed the importance of increasing QPR training for students so everyone is aware of the warning signs and how to intervene with that person, “Peer intervention is really powerful,” she said.
QPR training has been provided, according to Robinson, to all resident advisors in campus’ residence halls, community assistants in campus’ apartments, hall directors and two sororities, at least. Robinson is a graduate of Alpha Kappa sorority herself and wants all fraternities and sororities at UNH to be trained.
If students are afraid to consult someone they think may be in crisis, Robinson said the best places to call include PACS and UNH Police. PACS has a clinician on call every day from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. to answer questions for students. PACS also provides free appointments and emergency appointments for crisis situations during operating hours. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a live person available to talk 24/7. Many local clinics in Strafford County also provide suicide prevention and mental health consultations. If students feel someone is in immediate danger, even if PACS is open, Robinson said to call UNH Police to diffuse the situation and seek the appropriate help.
“PACS is a great place on campus that welcomes everyone with open arms,” Eafrati said. “If you’re not willing to go there, then definitely seek help in your friends.”
“The best thing you can do is seek help,” Moss said. “I would really hate for this to happen on our campus because I think there are a lot of amazing things about this campus and this community.”
“I challenge students to partner with us in this initiative,” Robinson said. Through a coordinated effort with students, student organizations and faculty, Robinson believes the entire campus can be QPR trained in the next few years.
PACS is open Monday, Thursday and Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Their phone number to schedule appointments and be connected with a professional during a crisis is (603) 862-2090. After hours emergency calls will be redirected to Portsmouth Regional Hospital. QPR training is available for all student organizations. If you are in a student organization and would like to request training, this can be done over the phone or on the PACS website. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
Mantz did not respond to any further questions by the time of publication.
The TNH Editorial Board had many discussions as to how best to report on this incident. Through our reporting and listening to student reactions, the decision was made to use this article as a way to educate UNH about how best to approach situations like these, and provide information to how these situations affect students, show that students really do care about each other and where you can find help, rather than explain the intimate details of what occurred. The entire TNH staff helped to bring this article to print. If you or someone you care about may be going through a crisis, or showing some of the warnings signs, please, do not hesitate; the best thing you can do is seek help.