Jennifer Husum, Colorado Membership Coordinator
January 3, 2018
As the New Year begins, many of us will reflect on 2017, the highs and the lows. You may be saying, thank goodness that year is behind me, while others will recall it being great. Many of us will also define some resolutions for 2018. The fitness centers and gyms will be packed, some will endeavor to complete challenges like the “Whole 30” and some will attempt to give up an addiction – coffee, smoking, Facebook, Candy Crush Saga, etc. Often these intentions focus on ourselves, but as we start back in our offices for 2018, what if we make a stronger commitment to look externally to help others more.
It is not a new revelation to say mental health concerns are a top issue in higher education today. No matter what functional area you work in higher ed, mental illness impacts our work environment and our work with students. In my reflection of the Fall 2017 semester, suicide and suicidal ideation has come up more often in my work with students and in the community I live. I imagine I am not the only Student Affairs professional who had a similar experience in 2017. In September 2017, the Denver Post reported three middle/high school students died by suicide in three days in the Denver metro area.1 According to the CDC data from 2015, Colorado has the 9th highest suicide morality rate in the country. In Region 4 West, Wyoming, New Mexico and South Dakota are also in the top ten.2
Where I work, there has been an increase in students seeking out mental health resources in 2017. While there has also been more students transported for suicidal ideation, I am thankful to see students get the assistance they need. I am also encouraged by the State of Colorado passing Senate Bill 147 in 2016, the Suicide Prevention through Zero Suicide bill. This bill was “a response to high suicide rates in the state and gaps in data that show how over 30 percent of individuals are receiving mental health care at their time of death from suicide and 45 percent have seen their primary care physician within one month of their death.”3 The state has prioritized resources for public health initiatives that focus on suicide prevention efforts starting in 2018.
Suicide affects all of us at one level or another. Who hasn’t seen this type of post on social media?
“Hard time of the year for a lot of folks. Hotline 800-273-TALK (8255). A simple copy and paste might save someone's life. Would 3 of our friends please copy this post?”
If you are concerned about someone, start with a simple question – “Do you need to talk?” As with most concerns, people want to be heard but may not always know what to say. Be present. In our busy, day-to-day, hectic schedules, it can be hard to slow down to see and hear the pain someone else may be experiencing, but we must. Look for warning signs, such as decline in engagement or performance, substance abuse, giving away possessions, or marked changes in behavior. Also, it is important to know the limits of what you can do to help. If you don’t have the training or the appropriate letters after your name, do not take on the role of counselor. Be the friend, advisor, colleague, mentor, or advocate they need in that moment and get them to resources that can help.
What else can you do?
Know, post, and make available resources.
Host or attend professional development and training certifications.
Reduce the stigma around mental health.
Jennifer Husum, Colorado Membership Coordinator. Associate Dean of Students for Equity and Compliance, Deputy Title IX/EO Coordinator, ADA Coordinator and Care Team Chair at Arapahoe Community College.
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