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UW Receives Suicide Prevention Grant

October 15, 2009

A three-year grant to the University of Wyoming will help provide suicide prevention training and outreach support on campus and throughout the state.

The nearly $100,000 "Enhanced University of Wyoming Lifesavers Initiative" aims to prevent suicide and suicide attempts through a comprehensive approach that consists of education, training, outreach and support.

UW is among 22 universities nationwide to receive funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The association awarded $6.3 million in grants to assist colleges and universities to facilitate suicide prevention and strengthen mental health services for students in crisis.

It is vital that UW continues to help prevent potential suicides, says Lena Newlin, UW's grant manager and AWARE (Alcohol, Wellness Alternatives, Research and Education) Program coordinator.

"Wyoming's rural nature, coupled with the cowboy culture of rugged individualism, presents challenges in effectively addressing the mental and behavioral health needs of Wyoming residents," Newlin says. "Consequently, Wyoming ranks fourth in the nation for individuals committing suicide, with a rate of 17.7 per 100,000 population. This is 60 percent higher than the national rate of 11 per 100,000."

The UW Counseling Center will use some of the grant money to host a yearly suicide prevention conference for representatives from the seven Wyoming community colleges and those with a vested interest in mental health and alcohol-related issues.

"Many of the community colleges are interested in effectively addressing the mental health needs of their students," Newlin says. "It is also great to be able to connect and network with colleagues from across the state to solve some of the issues that we are dealing with on all of our campuses."

One of the successes of the SAMHSA grant is UW's Gatekeeper training program, which teaches participants how to recognize the signs and symptoms of someone who might be suicidal and how to refer them to seek professional help. The two-hour program reached more than 400 participants last year, an increase of about 150 from the previous year.

"There is a lot interest from student organizations and people from UW departments who want to receive the training," Newlin says. "People have said, ‘I went through the training and it helped me recognize that my friend was in need of help.' We have a lot of success stories like that from participants."

She adds that Gatekeepers will continue to offer the same services, but the new grant will expand the program to reach a more targeted population, specifically adding training to those in the military, reserves and veterans groups plus pre-professional health science majors.

Newlin says the latest grant will help the UW Counseling Center's Lifesavers Coalition to continue to host monthly meetings focusing on mental health issues within the campus community. The coalition comprises UW staff, faculty and some students.

The grant also helps to fund a UW student group, "Active Minds," that will work to decrease the stigma of mental illness, Newlin adds.

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