A decade ago, a college student named Garrett Smith killed himself after battling depression and bipolar disorder. His father, then-Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), transformed that personal tragedy into public good by co-sponsoring the 2004 legislation that was eventually incorporated into a suicide prevention bill named after his son: the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act.
Continuously reauthorized since then, the act's grant programs fund suicide prevention efforts on both college campuses and in states, territories and tribal areas.
APA President Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, received a three-year Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Campus Suicide Prevention grant in 2009. The funding helped Kaslow and colleagues build a campus-wide suicide prevention program.
The program began with a suicide prevention website called Emory Cares 4 U, which includes an interactive, confidential screening tool; personal stories from people affected by suicide; contact information for those seeking help; and information about suicide and prevention tailored to international students; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students; and other subpopulations.
"This is a great opportunity to connect with students in a medium they like, understand and work with every day," says Lauren Moffitt Edwards, PhD, an adjunct assistant professor at Emory and a clinician in private practice.
The online screening tool is a key feature, says Amanda Garcia-Williams, a doctoral candidate in Emory's Rollins School of Public Health who helped develop the website. "If someone is depressed and suicidal, sometimes it's a lot to ask of them to even get out of bed and then find a place to go get help," she says. "This takes the work off of their shoulders." If the online screening tool results suggest a student needs help, students can chat with a counselor online or get connected to face-to-face services.
Another component of Emory's program is "gatekeeper" training, which teaches people how to recognize and react to suicide warning signs. Thanks to its Garrett Lee Smith grant, Emory adopted an evidence-based program called QPR (Question, Persuade and Refer) that trains participants to ask if someone is suicidal and then persuade that person to get help if needed.
"Anyone who has daily contact with students is trained, from professors, coaches and resident assistants to physicians," says Edwards. "We even trained the debate team staff."
— Robin Tricoles
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