UW-Madison lands suicide prevention grant

The University of Wisconsin-Madison University Health Services has received a $306,000 grant for campus suicide prevention programs from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The three-year grant, announced today, will fund both education programs and increases in mental health services.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students and the No. 1 contributor to suicide is untreated depression,” Danielle Oakley, director of Counseling and Consultation Services at UHS, said in a news release. “With this grant, we hope to address the root of this issue by providing prevention and awareness based programming for faculty, staff, students, parents and community partners.”

The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act funded this suicide prevention grant as part of a congressional allocation of $15 million for campuses in 2012, fully renewing the program despite a tight federal budget. The programs were created in 2004, and named in memory of Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith’s son, Garrett, who took his own life in 2003.

The grant comes at a time of increasing student demand for mental health services. In 2010-2011, overall student visits to the counseling center went up 10 percent, and first time appointments went up 14 percent.

There is no data kept on student suicides at UW system campuses according to Oakley.

“What I can tell you is that we know that across the country, there are 2,000 suicide-linked student deaths every year,” Oakley said in an interview.

A report in February by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism found student demand straining some services, leading to two- to three-week wait times for scheduled appointments during busy times of the year, like finals. Students are also limited to 10 appointments a year.

Oakley told the Center last winter that the counseling services budget had not suffered cuts in 2011, and described new programs that UHS created to better serve students with limited resources. These included walk-in appointments for first time clients, more group therapy options, and prioritizing care for at-risk students. UHS also hired a case manager to work with students who go off-campus for mental health care, typically students who need regular or specialized therapy.

UHS applied for the grant with support from several other campus organizations that want to collaborate on suicide prevention programming. Oakley said that the grant will fund creation of a campus council to bring people together from across the UW-Madison community to talk about what the greatest needs are.

“We want to implement tools to help people recognize signs of students in distress and refer them to the resources available,” Oakley said. “Then, we have to demonstrate the effectiveness of those tools.”

Another new program will be designed to reach groups of students with statistically higher risk of suicide, including American Indians, GLBT students and veterans with information about the mental health resources available.

“I want thank each of the partners that provided support and assistance with our application,” UHS Executive Director Sarah Van Orman said in the news release. “We look forward to collaborating with our many campus and community organizations as we begin planning and implementation of our comprehensive suicide prevention efforts.”