Suicide prevention on a college campus: an in-depth look at students' experiences in a peer education program
Schulze, Rebekah Freeman
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Suicide is a serious public health problem. Every 16 minutes in the United States, a person dies by suicide and every minute, someone attempts to commit suicide. In 2007, 34,598 people died by suicide in the United States (CDC.gov, 2011). It is national problem that affects college students severely, with suicide being the third leading cause of death for college-aged youth (18-24yrs)(CDC.gov, 2011). According to the 2010 National College Health Assessment, 30.7% of undergraduate students "felt so depressed it was difficult to function," 6.2% "seriously considered attempting suicide", and 1.3% "attempted suicide". These statistics reflect a problem that only recently has begun to gain national attention. On college campuses, very few suicide prevention programs are oriented towards training students on how to recognize when their peers are struggling, what to do when they identify a peer in need, and how to make a referral to the counseling center when appropriate. Most campuses rely on their professional staff to address these issues. However, research shows that peers will often go to peers with their problems before turning to an administrator, faculty or counselor. The purpose of this study was to understand the experiences of students who participated in a six-week suicide prevention training program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, aimed at training to students to identify friends in need and refer them for help. The findings suggest that this peer education suicide prevention program on one college campus is successful for participants: students turn to their peers when having a personal crisis; the program increases their ability to identify peers at risk for a mental health crisis; it helps improve their confidence to offer help to friends in need; and it increases their comfort level with referring friends to the counseling center for help. The implications of this study are: A program like WPI's can help create a support network of "eyes and ears" trained to identify at-risk students early on and refer them to the Counseling Center; help reduce stigma, thus normalizing help-seeking behavior; help colleges meet the growing demand for services without taxing resources; and increase the recruitment and retention of students.
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