As “CAPS Suicide Prevention – A Focus on Students” — a short informational film about student experiences with mental illness — began to play, LSA junior Ryan Marshall appeared on screen and shared his own experience with depression. He detailed the isolation he felt, as well as the immense pressures to perform both academically and socially at such a high-ranked university.
Every year, 24,000 students attempt suicide on college campuses in the United States. Through the release of three new suicide prevention videos, as well as the “Do something: Stop Student Suicide" initiative, the University of Michigan Counseling and Psychological Services is working to provide students and faculty with the tools needed to identify students at risk.
Three other videos, titled “A Focus on Faculty,” “A Focus on Students” and “Using Our Strengths as a Community,” present similar subject material — suicide prevention information — through different lenses in order to connect with a wide audience. The most common theme throughout every film? The importance of getting help and not struggling alone.
“I was feeling very isolated, and for the first time in my life, was not doing very well in school,” Marshall said. “I’m very happy with my choice to seek help, my life has been made exponentially better. Seek help, be happy.”
CAPS Director Todd Sevig shared the videos with the student body in an email sent on Monday. Sevig detailed the importance of the ability of Michigan students to make a difference in the lives of fellow students, as well as form a support network for those all across campus.
“In order to reduce the silence and the mystery that surrounds suicide we offer these new videos focused on what contributes to thoughts of suicide and more importantly, how you can respond,” he wrote. “Being a UM student provides us with a unique opportunity and responsibility to make a real difference in the lives of our friends, roommates, classmates, student org members, etc. It is through this support network that we can "change the story" for one individual AND on a campus-wide level.”
To fully engage the student body, CAPS enlisted the help of the University Central Student Government. According to Sevig, the partnership between CAPS and CSG, as well as other groups on campus, is aimed at creating a lasting impact within the campus community by increasing student body awareness of mental health issues.
“The partnerships of CAPS and CSG, as well as multiple student groups and student governments, and the support of academic units, of Student Life units, and the additional mental health services on campus, can all combine and create sustainable change and "move the needle" on our campus,” Sevig wrote.
CAPS psychologist Jamye Banks, the coordinator of suicide prevention, remarked the videos are only a small part of a much larger campus-wide initiative to strengthen suicide prevention efforts. She said the videos feature realistic scenarios and relatable individuals, which will hopefully capture the attention of students in a way that emails and website posts cannot.
“The videos are part of our larger approach to suicide prevention for our campus,” Banks said. “If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then hopefully a moving picture is worth more. Meaning, we tend to watch videos more than we read emails or websites, etc. Further, the videos capture scenarios that could provide a more realistic view and thus be more relatable and beneficial. We want to provide information and tools for all of us on campus to change the story — for individuals, and for our campus — change the story to one of hope and knowledge.”
CAPS has used the Question, Persuade, Refer method, which trains individuals to recognize the warning signs exhibited by suicidal people and advocate for them to seek help, since 2006. Through this, hundreds of students, faculty and staff have been trained how to both recognize the warning sides of suicide and advise the individual in distress how to get help.
The CAPS website states: “QPR is intended to teach individuals who have a lot of contact with students (e.g., faculty, staff, friends) how to recognize the warning signs of suicide and provide guidelines as to how to Question a person about suicidal thoughts, how to Persuade them to get help and how to Refer the person for help.”
Throughout the videos, Nancy Mason, associate dean for student services in the College of Pharmacy, emphasized that faculty often place high demands on students, forgetting that they have a lot going on beneath the surface.
“Even though we’re a large university, we want to make sure we’re taking care of our students,” she said. “As a faculty member sometimes you have high demands on your students, and I’m not sure that I really appreciated the fact that students have things going on that are distracting them or keeping them from doing their best work.”
Banks stressed the importance of reaching out to a professional if a friend expresses suicidal thoughts or displays warning signs — noting that both CAPS After Hours and Michigan Medicine's Psychiatric Emergency Services are available 24 hours a day.
“Stay in touch with the friend, be willing to listen and take them seriously and encourage them to get professional help — go with them to the appointment at CAPS,” Banks said. “Create a support network for the friend for multiple methods of support. Lastly, in being support for the friend, also remembering to gain support for themselves in this process, as it can be difficult process.”
Aside from the Stop Student Suicide initiative, CAPS also announced it will be expanding its program and add to the counselors already working within individual schools and colleges across campus. This embedded counselor model was implemented in 2014, and according to Sevig, a comprehensive evaluation of the program shows that is is highly effective.
Instead of having to travel across campus, students can visit a counselor within their own campus community — this model also makes it easier for counselors to check in on students, as well as tailor appointment times and events to that specific college.
By August 2017, CAPS will place four new counselors, for a total of eleven staff embedded into these schools and colleges.
The eight schools and colleges currently part of the embedded model are the College of Engineering, the Law School, the Rackham Graduate School, the Ross School of Business, the School of Dentistry, the Stamps School of Art & Design, the Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning, and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
The program will expand to include the School of Social Work, the College of Pharmacy, the Comprehensive Studies Program in LSA and a second staff member in the College of Engineering.
LSA senior Meghan Brown, Students for Mental Health Outreach chair, wrote in an email interview she believes increasing the number of counselors is beneficial for students who struggle to balance the various stressors of college.
“I think that sometimes people forget to make their mental health a priority during college and that it's really easy to let that part of yourself go," she wrote. “Increasing the number of counselors for schools is extremely beneficial for those students who have a difficult time dealing with the multitude of stresses that college throws at you. And you'd actually be surprised at how many people that is.”
Brown also enumerated the importance of raising awareness for mental health across campus, and that it is the most vital role CAPS can play.
“I also think that anything that raises awareness is always really important,” Brown wrote. “That's actually why I joined Students for Mental Health. Sophomore year it was brought to my attention that several of my best friends were struggling and I honestly never would have expected it. I think that's the most important thing that CAPS can do — continue to raise awareness.”