U offers resources to prevent suicide and help others do the same

University services have counselors available on an urgent basis.

Nina Petersen-Perlman

Sophomore James Roop said he knew the residence hall student who committed suicide just before Thanksgiving 2004. As a result, he has become much more sensitive when people talk about suicide.

Roop said he would consider referring similar students to campus counselors to help deal with their issues.

“If I just meet them,” he said, “I pay attention a little more.”

This year, residence hall students are grappling with the recent suicide of another first-year student and, perhaps, are wondering where to go to deal with their resulting feelings.

Edward Ehlinger, director and chief health officer at Boynton Health Service, said there are many places at the University students can go for help if they are contemplating suicide or know someone who is.

“We have urgent counselors at Boynton and (University Counseling and Consulting Services) has counselors available on an urgent basis,” he said. “If people have immediate concerns, those are the first places to go.”

Students can also call local suicide hotlines such as the hot line at the Hennepin County Medical Center. Senior psychiatric social worker Mike Pattison answered the 24-hour hotline at 11 p.m. Thursday. He said there are many factors this time of year that can make someone feel depressed or even suicidal.

“Holidays like Christmas and New Year’s bring families together,” he said. “People who have some sort of conflict may have heightened emotions from getting together with family or not getting together with their families.”

He also said the waning light outside can add to the depression of someone with seasonal affective disorder, as can the crunch of finals time.

University Counseling and Consulting Services director and senior psychologist Harriett Copher Haynes said students don’t have to be contemplating suicide to get help. Counseling at University Counseling and Consulting Services is free.

“It’s not a problem to come and consult with us either at UCCS or at Boynton,” she said. “There’s a stigma of coming to talk to people about your problems. We want to work hard at getting rid of that stigma.”

Copher Haines said that when a crisis happens on campus, a University community response team, consisting of Boynton professionals, University Counseling and Consulting Services, Campus Ministries and other volunteers, is available for group counseling.

“Typically, it would allow people the opportunity to express their feelings on what had happened,” she said. “We’re available to talk to someone individually, as well as in a group. We try to help them normalize the experience.”

Rachel Schott, executive director of the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program in Minnesota, said many don’t take people seriously when they voice thoughts of suicide.

“One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking they’re joking,” she said. “It moves us to inaction because we don’t believe it will really happen.”

Schott advises those who suspect someone of considering suicide to be there for him or her.

“The majority of people who die by suicide die alone; so stay, listen and don’t offer advice,” she said. “Follow through to getting them immediate professional help.”

The Yellow Ribbon program works to promote suicide awareness by distributing Yellow Ribbon business cards.

“The Yellow Ribbon is a good way to promote asking and reaching out for help,” she said. “The front tells the person carrying it that it’s OK to ask for help: There’s people who care and will help if you’re in a point where you need it. You say “I need to use my yellow ribbon.’ “

Schott said the back of the card tells the person receiving it that it’s a cry for help and to stay, listen and get help.

“People think “Gosh, maybe I’m making more out of it than it really is,’ ” Schott said. “If we’re afraid that person may have thought about suicide, we need to ask them; if they’ve made a statement that bothers us, we need to call them on it.

“It’s a life-and-death situation.”