University Health Services starts new suicide prevention program

In early October, University Health Services started a program aimed at helping University of Wisconsin-Madison students prevent their peers from committing suicide.

The program, Suicide Prevention Training for UW-Madison Students, is an online training that suicide prevention graduate assistant Rachel Dyer said takes about 90 minutes to complete.

“Maybe we’ll pass by someone who’s crying, or we have a friend who says something that maybe sounds a little bit concerning, but because mental health and ‘suicidality’ are so stigmatized, we’ll convince ourselves that that person is probably OK,” Dyer said.

The program was designed to help students recognize when peers are in distress and teach them how to respond to those peers effectively and refer them to resources.

After surveys showing UHS officials that students are initially more likely to tell a peer about suicide ideation than a mental health provider, UHS implemented the new program so that students can effectively help a friend in need.

UHS offers mental health services to both undergraduate and graduate students at UW, but Dyer said she understands it’s not always easy to ask for help from a provider.

“It’s really hard to ask for help because struggling with your mental health is so stigmatized,” Dyer said. “But there are a lot of systems and supports in place.”

Throughout the program, an option to “Get Help Now” is always available. If clicked, the link takes people to a list of mental health resources available on UHS’ website.

Dyer said that for seven years, UHS has been tracking and analyzing data to create the program. She said UW has offered in-person training on suicide prevention that follows three focal points: recognize, respond and refer.

These in-person trainings are based on evidence that is used throughout the country, according to Dyer. These same practices are taught in the program, but are tailored specifically for UW students.

“(We’re) taking what we know and applying it to college students specifically,” Dyer said.

As of now, the program is completely voluntary and is a pilot program.

“We will be collecting participants’ feedback and evaluation data in order to continue improving the program and making it beneficial for students and to present evidence for why this program should be mandatory for all UW-Madison students,” Dyer said.

Students, faculty and staff members at UW can take the training through the school’s online tool Canvas, which professors typically use as a source to upload class materials.

Dyer said the program is not meant to help in emergency situations. If you feel a person needs immediate assistance, call 911 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

“You’re not alone,” Dyer said. “There’s always folks to reach out to.”

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