Grant aims to change culture on college campus, in community for suicide prevention

Every 13 minutes, someone in the U.S. commits suicide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there were 41,149 suicides in 2015, making it the 10th highest cause of death in the country.

One researcher is hoping to change that by taking away the stigma of talking about suicide with help from a federal grant.

A quick glance at students around campus at Southern Illinois University won’t tell you how many of them are depressed, anxious or feeling suicidal. But Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Jaime Clark says many students on campus turn to them for help.

"About 10 percent of the student population comes in, in a given year," Clark said. For students specifically dealing with suicidal thoughts, they have individual and group therapy available, as well as skills groups for them to participate in.

Associate professor, program director for social work and principal investigator of the suicide grant Dhrubodhi Mukherjee says SIU needs to change the campus’ culture regarding suicide. With the grant money awarded to his proposal, he’s working to build a program that makes suicide a topic anyone can talk about.

"I thought about creating an infrastructure of suicide prevention on campus," Mukherjee said, explaining plans for a program that includes training on suicide for every faculty and staff member as well as posters and pamphlets on help for suicide prevention in every office and hallway.

But they’re not just addressing the issue here on campus. They’re also reaching out and working with human service providers like Centerstone and making sure that they’re addressing the issue together as a community.

"Sharing the information with people about where they can get help and what help is available and how it can help them get to the other side of this is tremendously valuable," said Centerstone CEO John Markley. Centerstone serves roughly 17,000 people every year in southern Illinois, many dealing with mental health emergencies.

Markley said the services Centerstone offers southern Illinoisans are often the only ones available in the area, and their ability to help people is dwindling as the state’s budget impasse continues to bring more cuts. Markley says any program that helps connect people easily with services about suicide and other mental health issues is a big credit to the area and the people in it.

Markley said he believes the partnership with SIU and Mukherjee to destigmatize suicidal thoughts can really help, making it a more accessible topic and less isolating for those dealing with it. The program aims to provide in-depth training for staff on how to talk about suicide with students as well as targeting at-risk students, such as veterans, members of the LGBTQ community and nontraditional students, to better serve them. It also will provide education and resources for students before suicide becomes an issue for them.

"It’s not just a focus on students that are actively suicidal, but it’s preventing it in the first place," Clark said.

"My goal is to make it work, and then let the infrastructure continue beyond the three-year tenure of the grant," Mukherjee said. He says this can create a lasting change suicide here for years to come.

The federal grant awarded to SIU for research is for $306,000 and runs for three years, focusing on education and prevention.

If you’re dealing with suicidal thoughts in southern Illinois, call 618-937-6483 for help. Services are available with Centerstone 24/7, 365 days a year. You can call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 for help 24/7, 365 days a year.

Visit the suicide prevention line online by clicking here, or visit Centerstone’s website by clicking here

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