We commend USM for taking a new initiative toward suicide prevention. However, we feel that counseling services and the USM Cares program alone should not be the only remedies. We as a university need to take an initiative ourselves to work as advocates for those who might be affected by the invisible illness that results in suicide.
Last May, a student among us committed suicide. The year before that, five students took their own lives. According to Counseling Services, these students were not actively seeking help, but had USM as a whole been better trained, then perhaps their lives would have been saved.
USM Cares is a new outreach program where students are randomly selected and asked to take an encrypted electronic stress screen and depression survey. The results are computer generated and sent back to counselors who then send them personal e-mails. Students also have the option to anonymously chat with a counselor whose main goal is to help the student and to get them to come in to Counseling Services for individual treatment. According to the Clinical Director Bob Small, so far there has been a 4 percent response rate — which he says is similar to other universities.
We commend Health and Counseling for this new initiative, but we worry that recent cuts to Health and Counseling Services will impede the program from fully realizing its purpose. The budget cuts resulted in time reduction; some clinicians went from ten month to nine month contracts. Although there is always a clinician on call for immediate consultation and USM has a contract with Cumberland County Crisis Services, the counseling centers will be closed during summer and winter breaks, and Director Kristine Bertini said their department needs more counselors. But prevention programs alone can’t save lives: It’s our responsibility as human beings to educate ourselves on this issue and to look for those subtle — and not so subtle — changes in a friend that indicate that things have taken a turn for the worst.
If a friend is distraught over a failed test, a late assignment, their workload in general, a breakup, a family crisis, or anything, talk to them. A critical component of suicide prevention is to understand that it’s okay to ask a friend who seems to have suddenly changed in personality ifthey’re alright, if they are thinking about doing something drastic. It’s important to use the word ‘suicide’ when confronting a friend who seems troubled. Talking about suicide is not going to implant the idea in a person’s brain; a person reaches a suicidal conclusion on his or her own. Intervention of a friend, a teacher, or a total stranger can and will help someone out of a crisis situation.
Don’t shoulder the burden by yourself. Enlist the help of others, connect your friend with a hotline, and encourage him or her to seek counseling. Prevention programs are essential for education and raising awareness about suicide, but ultimately it is up to each and every one of us to put that education to use and help each other.