Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college-aged students, and suicidal thoughts, planning and attempts are significantly higher among this age group than any other, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The need to better address mental health on campus prompted Case Western Reserve leaders to seek funding to find additional ways to help students here.
This summer, the university received word that it had won a three-year, $300,000 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
With that funding, the university hopes to bring the campus community together to have a wider safety net for those experiencing mental illness or substance abuse issues.
“It’s about taking care of your community. It’s about reaching out and watching out for each other,” Lou Stark, vice president for student affairs, said. “This is a national issue, it’s not just a CWRU issue. The more we can be leaders in taking care of our community and taking care of each other—that’s hugely important.”
The grant cannot be used for direct services, such as adding more counselors. Instead, it is intended to develop an infrastructure the university can sustain well beyond the grant’s three years of funding.
That infrastructure will include the development of programming on campus to train those who most frequently encounter students experiencing mental illness or substance abuse issues. University Health Service physicians, security officers and faculty members are among those who will have the opportunity to develop skills to work with students who may be at risk.
Importantly, the programming, called Connect CWRU, will emphasize informing students what they should do if a friend comes to them for help. Through the program, university leaders hope they will be able to empower students to seek help for their friends.
“[The grant] is catalytic in the sense that it does provide some money and encouragement to us to make sure that all corners of the safety net exist,” Jes Sellers, director of University Counseling Services, said. “One of the key ones would be the students and the student groups.”
Sara Lee, a physician within the University Health Service and assistant professor of pediatrics, will bring her residents in pediatrics at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital to residence halls and hold sessions with students to explain many facets of health and wellness. The hope is that students will view health care workers as more accessible and also better understand what sort of support is available to them.
Prevention will be a key component of the programming, with a focus on providing information about wellness and nutrition.
Eleanor Davidson, director of the University Health Service, noted that self-management tools could help students with mental illness and substance abuse issues. Some techniques she suggests when meeting with students include eliminating their late-night caffeine intake, getting more sleep or attending time-management classes.
Through teaching them these tools and others, Davidson said she hopes students learn that there’s an array of tools that can work to help with mental illness and substance abuse.
The team is in the process of planning details of the education, training and awareness efforts to be launched within the next few months, and also are engaging with community resources to identify additional avenues for students.
Davidson, Lee, Sellers and Stark, who all played a crucial role in obtaining the grant for CWRU, emphasized that students who are struggling have many opportunities to get help.
“We’re here. We have so many resources,” Stark said. “Contact the folks in counseling. They’re available. You can reach them 24 hours a day.”
Overall, the new programming is intended to bring all campus entities together to create a coordinated effort to prevent suicide and build upon resources already in place.
“This is a shared experience,” Sellers said. “We all have our struggles, and sometimes we find strength in joining together.”
For emergencies after hours or on weekends and holidays, an on-call counselor is available at 216.368.5872.