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Students Receive $300K Suicide Grant, Plan Annual Walk

By Bradley “Beej” Davis Jr.

College is tough. Life is tough, and for some college-aged teens and young adults, it’s too tough. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15to 24-year olds and the second leading cause of death for college students.  A student group at the University of West Florida, Students for Suicide Awareness (SSA), will be hosting its second annual “Seeds of Hope” 5k Community Walk on Nov.  19 at the soccer track/field on campus.

“We will help you find the help you need,” said SSA President Shane Kuhlman. “You are not alone, and you do not have to do this by yourself. There are many other people here on campus and around the City of Pensacola that will listen and help you get through this rough time.”

Last year’s inaugural walk was the brainchild of SSA students and the group’s advisor, Raela Villanueva, who lost her brother to suicide 14 years ago.

“The idea for the local walk came from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) national ‘Out of the Darkness’ overnight walk for survivors (those loved ones left behind by suicide),” said Villanueva. She first learned about the national walk in 2002 and has participated ever since.  “Our local survivor group had been talking about organizing a local 5k walk and with the help of SSA, Sigma Chi, and other student organizations, the ‘Seeds of Hope’ 5k Community Walk was started.” According to Villanueva, last year’s event had 165 registered walkers and raised over $2,500 for suicide awareness and education. “Even (professional boxer and Pensacola local) Roy Jones, Jr. came out to support the walk in honor of a friend he had lost to suicide.”

Members of the university’s counseling program have taken notice of SSA’s efforts and after applying for The Campus Suicide Prevention Grant, received the $306,000, to be paid over the next three years. The grant was created by the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHA) and named after a 21-year-old senator’s son from Oregon who committed suicide in 2003. In addition to SAMHA, other funders of the grant program include the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) and are part of a $6.2 million national program that was reauthorized this year though the Senate.

“(The grant) will offer much needed research on our campus. Including, but not limited to, a social marketing campaign, suicide prevention research (data specific to the campus), ‘Question, Persuade and Refer’ (QPR) training, which is sort of like CPR (first aid) for suicide, a student organization coalition – SSA, ‘To Write Love on Her Arms’ UWF Chapter, the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), and the Student Veterans Association (SVA),” said Kuhlman. He also said the grant will fund suicide prevention conferences “headed by some of the biggest names in suicide prevention research around the nation.”

April Glenn, a registered mental health counselor for UWF’s Counseling and Wellness Services, further explains the emphasis of partnerships with the GSA and SVA.

“These student organizations receive funding support from our grant to initiate various suicide prevention outreach events on our campus targeting GLBTQ and military affiliated students,” said Dr. Glenn. “One such event was a chalking event held by GSA this fall in which members used chalk to write messages of hope on campus sidewalks. For our 2012-2013 social marketing campaign, we are seeking feedback from GSA and SVA members in order to develop posters which specifically address GLBTQ, student veteran, and military affiliated populations.  Our four student organizations are actively collaborating in order to work together to address suicide prevention on our campus.”

Glenn, along with Rebecca Kennedy, licensed psychologist and director of Health and Counseling Services, and Susan Walch, professor of psychology, penned the grant which will be awarded over the next three years. Dr. Walch believes heavily in the education aspect of what this grant can offer.

“We hope that our efforts can help dispel these myths and misinformation, make a dent in the stigma, and arm individuals with the skills and courage to talk openly with each other about these very difficult topics so that we can recognize, acknowledge, and support the very real needs of our brothers, sisters, parents, children, classmates, friends, colleagues, and mentors when they need us most,” said Dr. Walch.

Aside from organizing the walk, members of SSA are busy year-round with prevention and education activities. They recently placed UWF Counseling Center sponsored posters around campus to reach students to inform them of the center’s services in addition to dispel myths about suicide. Kuhlman also says to look for the signs of suicidal patterns, and the best thing a friend or student can do is actively address these patterns.

“Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or classmate if they are suicidal. It is more important that you ask and care than if you say something wrong,” he said. “Asking the ‘suicide question’ alone will not make the friend or classmate more suicidal. This is a myth and a stigma that we are trying to erase on the campus. Through the QPR training we hope to have people recognize this myth and then dismiss it.”
What is the one thing that could be messaged to students contemplating suicide?

“Sorry, I have to say two things,” Dr. Walch replied. “There is hope. There is help.”

SEEDS OF HOPE 5K COMMUNITY WALK
WHEN: 9 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 19 (Registration deadline 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18)
WHERE: University of West Florida soccer field/track, 11000 University Pkwy.
COST: $8 for students, $10 for non-students
DETAILS: facebook.com/StudentsForSuicideAwareness