Tufts Community Cares: A Suicide Prevention Program was initiated in October 2008 to expand comprehensive campus efforts to promote help seeking and access to resources among students at risk of suicide. The grant goals are (1) increase awareness of signs and symptoms of mental health difficulties, student distress, and suicide risk; (2) decrease barriers to help-seeking, including stigma, lack of awareness, misinformation, or other factors that inhibit students’ utilization of mental health or other supports; and (3) develop an “ethic of care”Â within the campus community that builds the capacities of gatekeepers (students, faculty, staff, and families) to effectively facilitate access to counseling and other campus resources among students experiencing mental health difficulties.
Since the inception of our grant, we have collected a variety of data, which has helped us better understand the prevalence of student mental health issues, attitudes and beliefs about help seeking, and utilization of both informal and formal sources of help among specific groups of students. We have participated in the 2007 and 2010 Healthy Minds study; conducted focus groups with students from six Tufts cultural centers (Africana, Asian-American, International, Latino, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender, and Women’s); interviewed faculty, staff, administrators, and student leaders; and added mental health questions to the 2009 and 2010 sophomore and senior surveys collected by the Office of Institutional Research.
Using a strategic planning process, we designed our own gatekeeper training model tailored to the particular needs of our campus. Our program integrates suicide prevention into broader outreach and training efforts in order to foster more opportunities for dissemination and to convey the message that suicide prevention is part of our overall mental health outreach efforts. There are two basic training modules for faculty/staff and peer leaders, and content has been adapted to fit the unique attitudes and roles of the gatekeepers in relation to student mental health concerns. Participant evaluations are used as formative tools to continually modify the training. Since the fall of 2009 we have trained about 700 Tufts students and 285 faculty/staff members.Working closely with campus cultural centers, residence halls, athletic groups, academic deans, advisors, and student health advocacy groups, we have provided a variety of other outreach and awareness activities, such as workshops, discussions, and student panels. We have aimed to develop activities in a culturally sensitive manner in order to reach targeted student groups.
Materials created have included a guidebook for assisting students in distress for faculty, staff, and teaching assistants; a fact sheet about counseling for international students; and a Tufts Community Cares website. We are in the process of developing a short video for students that aims to promote positive attitudes about help seeking and the use of counseling services. In collaboration with the Tufts Parents Program we have held workshops for parents on mental health topics at university events such as matriculation day and parents weekend. Our program staff have also attended special resource fairs and orientation events for families of international and first-generation students. In addition, we have written several articles for the Parents Program electronic and paper newsletters on topics such as supporting a child who has come out, mental health issues of college students, and mental health resources. We are in the process of developing a web page that provides mental health and health information and resources especially for families.