Depression and Suicide Intervention Programs on College Campuses with Laurie Davidson, M.A.
Laurie Davidson, M.A., manages campus programs at the Suicide
Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) at Education Development Center, Inc. She has
worked for more than a decade to help campus administrators and staff across the
country develop and implement effective health promotion and prevention
programs. In her present role at SPRC, she oversees 50 campuses receiving
suicide prevention grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She has
presented at state and national conferences and in webinars on a variety of
topics, including the public health approach to campus health problem
prevention, best practices in suicide prevention, and principles for sustaining
prevention programs. Before joining SPRC in 2005, Davidson directed the Campus
Alcohol Prevention and Intervention project, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation, aimed at organizing statewide approaches to alcohol, drug, and
violence prevention in higher education. She also served as an associate
director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for
Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention and an associate director
of the Center for College Health and Safety. Before joining EDC, Davidson
served a number of organizations in the business, higher education, and
nonprofit sectors. She has an M.A. in counseling and worked for eight years as
a clinician in community mental health centers.
groups of students have a higher risk of depression or suicide?
Risk factors for depression and suicide include relationship
troubles, mood disorders, and barriers to accessing mental health care. For
suicide, easy access to lethal means, like poisonous chemicals or firearms, is
a risk factor. A lack of social support may also be a risk factor. Students who
are somehow “out of sync,” as Dr. Mort Silverman says, with the rest of the
campus community may be at risk. For example, in their Big 10 Suicide study,
Dr. Silverman and colleagues found that older female students were at higher
risk for suicide than other students at the schools. So it might make sense to
look at transfer students and graduate students for increased risk for
depression and suicide.
In the University of Michigan Healthy Minds study, men and women who
were screened for depression showed about equal risk. A very interesting
finding from this study is that students with financial difficulties, either during
childhood or at present, were more likely to screen positive for depression or
report suicidal thoughts. These students were also substantially less likely to
receive mental health services. This data tells us that we might be able to
prevent mental health problems by helping students work through their financial
How do you
recommend training staff about identifying, referring, and assisting at-risk
There are a lot of training options, including one that’s called
Campus Connect, created specifically for colleges and universities by the staff
at Syracuse University. It’s important for people on the frontline with
students to know how to intervene when they see students exhibiting warning
signs or risk factors for mental health problems or suicide. For more
information, visit the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
Most campuses that are conducting these trainings target faculty
as a primary audience, along with RAs and student affairs staff. There are less
obvious people who may have even more contact with students than faculty, such
as teaching assistants, administrative assistants in academic departments, tutors,
and financial aid advisors.
Clinicians in the counseling center and health center should also receive
training in assessing and managing suicide risk. There is a very good
collaborative program about identifying and treating depression in primary care
that was piloted at NYU in recent years. Participating students demonstrated
improved functioning and fewer symptoms at the end of the pilot.
different entry points on campus where a student can get help (health services,
counseling services, RA, advisor, coach). What’s the best way for a college to
ensure coordinated care?
Many campuses have case management teams or student-at-risk
response teams, which are designed to keep students from falling through the
cracks. Core team members usually include someone from the counseling center,
health services, resident life, student affairs, campus safety, and sometimes faculty.
These teams meet to identify students who may be at risk, and to figure out
different ways to assist them. This type of case management program is a growing
trend on college campuses.
campuses responding to the increase in reported depression and mental health
There’s some disagreement as to whether there has been an increase
in depression or simply an increase in reported cases. There is a serious gap
between the number of students who report being depressed and those who are
actually receiving treatment. For example, the Healthy Minds study shows that
only 50% of the students who screened positive for depression reported
share some examples of successful depression or suicide intervention programs?
There is no one program or intervention that is going to take care
of all the complex issues associated with depression and suicide. However,
campuses are doing a number of things to identify students who may be at risk
and provide them with quality services. Ultimately, successful program
development depends on a school’s understanding of its students and their risk
factors for depression and suicide. Many schools are now using a comprehensive,
multi-level approach developed by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and
the Jed Foundation, which recommends seven program strategies:
- Identify students at risk.
- Increase help-seeking behavior.
- Provide mental health services.
- Follow crisis management procedures.
- Restrict access to potentially lethal means.
- Develop life skills.
- Develop social connections.
St. Peter’s College in New Jersey, for example, created a
customized program for their predominantly local Hispanic student population.
The college reached out to the families of these students to teach the parents
how to reduce parent-child conflicts; according to data, parent-child conflict is
a factor in suicidal behavior among adolescent Hispanic females.
Arizona State University also developed a comprehensive program using
many of the seven areas of strategic intervention; the goal was to create an
overall protective environment and identify students in distress. ASU has a
social marketing campaign in place to encourage help-seeking behavior, and
supports a chapter of Active Minds, a national student organization that works
to reduce the social stigma of mental health problems. In addition, the school offers
an online mental health assessment tool, provides a mental health/life skills
group for students called Think Different and Feel Better, and offers stress
some solutions to overcome barriers (personal, environmental, or cultural) of
an at-risk student seeking depression help?
A couple of different groups, such as ‘Feel Better Fast’ and
‘Think Different and Feel Better’, are designed with the student in mind; the
help-seeking process is modified to provide easier access for the student.
Programs like these offer students a chance to receive counseling without being
It’s also important to think about barriers to help-seeking that
are less obvious. For instance, many people assume that students don’t seek
help due to social stigma, which may be a factor. But further exploration of barriers
may reveal something else. For example, the counseling center is in a very
exposed location, and its hours may not be conducive to a student’s schedule.
If campus data shows that students with mental health problems or suicidal
ideation are not seeking help, it’s important to go a step further and ask students
why they don’t seek help.
Cultural beliefs may also play a role in whether or not a student
seeks help. Most campus mental health services endorse a Western psychology
that is not shared by many other cultures. Trying to encourage students from
some cultures to go to the counseling center may not be a useful approach.
Instead, campuses need to think about what those students need and where they
would feel comfortable talking about their problems.
depression screening programs?
There are several screening program options. For instance, the JED
Foundation offers a free program called ULifeline. It’s an online resource
where students can use the screening tool and learn ways to help themselves and
their friends with emotional issues.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers a more
involved screening program called the College and University Screening Project.
This web-based program uses a three-tiered assessment method in which a trained
online clinician encourages at-risk students to seek help.
Finally, most people are familiar with National Depression
Screening Day, coordinated by Screening for Mental Health, Inc. The company
also has a program called College Response, which includes a year-long online
screening that can be customized for specific campuses.
any online resources that you would recommend for someone who would like to
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s website http://www.sprc.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Campus Mental Health Action Planning webinar series put on by the
Jed Foundation and Education Development Center, Inc. http://www.jedfoundation.com/professionals/programs-and-research/campusMHAP-webinars
Active Minds http://www.activeminds.org
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) College and
University Screening Project http://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?page_id=05967029-BC0C-603D-5A32D68043B9D7A8
College Breakthrough Series http://www.nyu.edu/shc/pdfs/Action-CBS-D-spring08-web.pdf
for Mental Health, Inc. http://www.mentalhealthscreening.org/ Back To Library