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UNL suicide prevention

Laura Shell (left) leads a REACH training session with members of the Graduate Student Assembly on Jan. 29. The training system was developed by Ohio State University and is the basis of Nebraska's suicide prevention program.

More than 100 Americans die by suicide each day — about 45,000 a year — and many of them are young adults.

It's the second leading cause of death among college students, and with that in mind universities across the country have been working to better understand and combat mental health issues on campus. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, suicide prevention efforts ramped up last March with the formation of Big Red Resilience, an initiative dedicated to helping students bounce back from the challenges and stresses of college life.

"A student's well-being is key to their academic success and them staying in school," says Connie Boehm, the director of Big Red Resilience.

In the year since it was founded, the group has offered a wide range of mental health services, and this school year the program was able to expand its offerings even more with the help of a federal grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Association (SAMSA). The three-year, $300,000 Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention grant has allowed Big Red Resilience to organize more campus-wide programming and specialized training sessions for students and staff members. 

"In three years, when this grant is complete, the university will have a cohort of students, faculty and staff who are trained specifically to recognize signs related to mental health issues and empowered to reach out to help others," Boehm said.

The training sessions, called "gatekeeper training," are conducted through a method called REACH, which was developed by Ohio State University and teaches participants to: Recognize warning signs, Engage with empathy, Ask directly about suicide, Communicate hope and Help suicidal individuals to access care and treatment.

"It really enhances and expands what we're doing around suicide prevention as well as looking at some polices and procedures in better serving students that are in distress," Boehm said. "The grant also allows us to hire a suicide prevention coordinator, which means that we can do more training and get more people involved."  

Already UNL has more than 750 trained faculty, staff and students.

"To be able to train over 750 people on this campus since October is huge," Boehm said. "We've gotten a really good response from people that want to help."

Second-year graduate student Jayne Kinney is one of them. As a "gatekeeper" she is focused on facilitating conversations surrounding suicide prevention.

"We aren't the counselors," Kinney said. "We're the people that have those conversations more organically. It's about listening for cues when people are talking about suicide or mental health crises."

Junior marketing major Jake Modica is also involved with the the program. As a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, it was his goal to become the house's first mental health chair. 

"I found out the university had REACH training, so that got me started," Modica said. "I know that a lot of mental health issues have been more prevalent recently on college campuses. It's definitely really important to try to end the stigma and give students a way to voice their feelings and emotions."

That can often be challenging for individuals when it comes to their mental health. But those involved in suicide prevention at UNL want it to be clear that there are several ways for students to find help and re-establish their well-being.

"There are lots of different resources you can use at UNL," said Boehm. "Don't be afraid to ask for help."

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, you can contact the Big Red Resilience office at (402) 472-8770 or send them an email at resilience@unl.edu.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or zpenrice@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @zacharypenrice1

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Spring semester city desk intern at the Journal Star.

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