Planting seeds of hope

UB brings suicide prevention program to Student Union

On January 31, 2013

  • Wellness Services brought in Amanda Tyson-Ryba, a licensed psychologist and practicum coordinator, to help host “Question, Persuade, Refer” (QPR), a well-known suicide prevention program, in the Student Union on Tuesday. Joe Malak /// The Spectrum

From 2004-10, 11 students from UB completed suicide.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students.

On Tuesday, the nationally recognized suicide prevention program "Question, Persuade, Refer" (QPR) took place in the Student Union. Suicide is easier to prevent than incidents like automobile accidents, which is why the suicide prevention trainings are held, according to Sharlynn Daun-Barnett, a specialist for alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention.

More than 1,000 students die due to suicide each year, she added.

Between the summer and fall of 2012, 163 people were trained through QPR, according to Amanda Tyson-Ryba, a licensed psychologist and practicum coordinator.

"We want to inform the campus population and find ways to reduce the likelihood of suicide occurring," Tyson-Ryba said. "It's a problem and concern we take very seriously. That's why we conduct this training."

Tyson-Ryba was one of two speakers at the QPR workshop. She strives to "reduce the impact" of suicide on campus. She believes students should use the on-campus workshops and programs they are comfortable with to become introduced to the idea of counseling.

She is no stranger to the issue of college students with suicidal thoughts. The topic is difficult and challenging but is something counselors deal with on a fairly regular basis, according to Tyson-Ryba.

"You always hope that someone isn't thinking about it," Tyson-Ryba said. "And it can raise some anxiety when you learn that someone is seriously considering it."

The Center for Disease Control reported suicide among males is four times higher than females. However, more females nationally attempt suicide while more males complete it. That statistic is also true at UB, according to Daun-Barnett.

"Suicide among males is over-represented," Tyson-Ryba said. "More males follow through with suicide because they use more lethal methods."

A friend who is QPR-trained may be a more comforting avenue than going right to counseling, according to Daun-Barnett.

UB's Wellness Education Services tries to offer as many resources as possible, she said, such as individual or group counseling and "Life and Learning" workshops on campus.

"We try to explain and normalize counseling as much as possible at different sites where we interact with students, such as at orientation," Daun-Barnett said. "We also try to give basic consultation trainings to people on the frontlines like doctors and coaches so that students who are more comfortable with them can reach for help."

Dennis Black, vice president for university life and services, wants students to know the UB community has to treat one another as friends and family. The closer a person is to someone, according to Black, the better chance there is to see the warning signs of potential suicide and provide help.

The ones who don't cry out for help are the ones we are at risk of losing, Black said.

"From 2006 to 2008, campus police responded to approximately 51 calls about a suicide attempt," Daun-Barnett said. "And in 2009, 36 students were transported to a hospital due to mental health concerns."

The National College Health Assessment Survey is conducted every three years and the 2010 survey drew more than 5,000 participants, including both freshmen and graduate students from UB.

According to the survey, 183 students reported seriously considering suicide. Thirty-one admitted to having attempted suicide.

"If we've learned anything in the past decade, it's if something doesn't seem right, then you need to do something about it, " Black said. "You can't let it go ... you need to ask: 'What's the issue?'"

Tyson-Ryba highly encourages for people to become involved in QPR. Wellness Services provides training to reach out to as many people as possible.

According to Tyson-Ryba, the more people who can recognize warning signs of suicide and how to correctly intervene, the better the outcome. She added that it also makes for a well-informed campus.

"Our vision is to have every teacher, every facilities person and anybody who is part of the university to be trained," Daun-Barnett said.

However, an obstacle remains. The issue is not the opportunities the school offers for care, according to Black, but how to get students to employ them.

He went on to say that in most completed suicide cases, people either didn't seek care or weren't directed toward it. The services are there, Black said, but the key is identifying individuals and bringing them in. That's what the school is going to have to do a better job at, according to Black.

In addition to other wellness services such as pet therapy, massage therapists and painting activities, the school's Mental Health Committee - of which Daun-Barnett is a member - meets monthly and organizes events like the Suicide Prevention Week (held every September) and "Chill Out" events. The committee also provides wellness grants so students can receive money for events that promote a healthier lifestyle - like alcohol-free events.

There is a Students of Concern Committee that meets each month as well, according to Daun-Barnett. It's an interdisciplinary body with individuals throughout Student Affairs. If a professor or professional is concerned about a student, Daun-Barnett said, they can report him or her to this committee and they'll look into it.

The City of Buffalo does its part in the fight for suicide prevention.

"There is a Suicide Prevention Walk that is usually held on a Saturday each year," Daun-Barnett said. "And there are a lot of other suicide prevention activities held, too."

QPR needs to be supported from the top down and from an administrative level, according to Tyson-Ryba.  Everyone on campus is a "gatekeeper," or an individual who works toward the prevention of suicide, she added.

Ninety percent of people going through a suicidal crisis give warning signs those close to them could notice if they knew what to look out for, according to Daun-Barnett.

"QPR is not intended to be counseling or treatment," she said. "It's intended to offer hope through positive action."


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