The federal grant that made the Husky, Help & Hope (otherwise known as H3) initiative on the University of Washington’s Seattle campus possible comes to an end in late March after three whirlwind years. A JED Campus: Forefront partnership will provide the vehicle to continue innovations in social and emotional health and suicide prevention.
Three years after a stakeholder group banded to launch H3, the University of Washington has remarkably improved its ability to support student mental health and crisis protocols.
Husky, Hope & Help (H3): Then and now
In late 2013, Forefront received a Campus Suicide Prevention grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAHMSA), authorized under the Garrett Lee Memorial Act, to launch H3 for the UW Seattle campus.
H3 stakeholder recommendations were designed to be phased in over a six-year period beginning in the 2014-2015 academic year. Since then, H3 accomplished an ambitious number of things:
Streamlined mental health, suicide prevention resources across campus
The H3 initiative encouraged campus partners, including Health and Wellness’ Suicide Intervention Program, the Counseling Center, Hall Health Mental Health Clinic, and SafeCampus, to collaborate more in supporting student mental health and suicide prevention.
“That’s a big accomplishment: Consistency in protocols for how to address students who may be at-risk for suicide. It was a huge shift for UW,” said Lauren Davis, H3’s director since its launch. “These campus entities agreed to utilize SafeCampus to provide consistent messaging to the UW community about how to access support and treatment services.”
“On a decentralized campus with two mental health units, it can be hard for students to know where to ask for help,” UW Counseling Center director Natacha Foo Kune described student feedback. “We are collaborating with Hall Health staff to improve clarity for our students.”
This helped streamline referrals to and from other campus organizations such as SafeCampus, Foo Kune added. According to SafeCampus manager Gillian Wickwire, the threefold jump from 13 suicide-related calls in 2014 to 46 suicide-related calls the following year was directly related to increased visibility from their new partnership with Forefront.
In 2016, concerns about suicide comprised 13 percent of total calls to SafeCampus – compared to two percent in 2013.
The attention to protocols also led to efforts to centrally aggregate data on student suicides, suicide attempts, and emergency room trips.
Advocacy to fund a full-time Suicide Intervention Program coordinator
Thanks to H3 and stakeholders asking the administration for increased funding, it bolstered a critical point of suicide intervention on campus: A new full-time coordinator position for UW Health & Wellness’ Suicide Intervention Program.
Previously, it was only a part-time role. Megan Kennedy, who began that position last February, said there is now an opportunity to “focus more deeply on suicide prevention efforts ranging from individual intervention to larger systemic change.”
These efforts include Peer Health Educators creating a new campus-wide “Let’s Talk about Mental Health” workshop for student groups including academic programs, fraternities and sororities, and Freshman Interest Groups (FIG). Health and Wellness staff have also collaborated with other Student Life programs, and with staff and faculty from various academic departments to raise awareness of mental health resources.
“Not surprisingly, we have observed an increase this year in the number of students calling Health and Wellness to report concern for their friends, as well as staff and faculty calling to consult about how to best support students they feel concerned about,” Kennedy said.
Departmental suicide prevention training and means restriction at Chemistry department
As a result of the H3 initiative, over 500 faculty members, staff, and students received in-person suicide identification and prevention training. That included tailored trainings for various professional schools: The School of Social Work, College of Education, School of Pharmacy, School of Nursing, and the Department of Communication.
“Almost invariably, someone comes up to me to ask about a student or to share about their own student experiences,” said Davis. “One professor’s hand shot up and he said ‘I don’t think you can ever ask someone if they’re thinking about suicide.’ By the end of training, he raised his hand again and said: ‘You’re completely right.’”
After a UW Chemistry Department training, twelve faculty members remained to discuss previous postdoctoral suicides by poison, and concerns about students with lab keys having unfettered access. As a result, students are now required to request permission for specific dosage and usage of chemicals such as cyanide and pure ethanol.
First-ever DBT training at Campus Counseling Center, Hall Health
Training for Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), one of the three therapies proven to treat suicide risk, is financially out of grasp for many mental health organizations.
But thanks to the combination of H3’s initiative and the generous collaboration of Linehan Institute’s Behavioral Tech, Forefront hosted two intensive one-week DBT trainings for campus mental health counselors and community partners such as Asian Counseling and Referral Services. Forefront also led the workforce development training for students entering a professional capacity by providing the six hour Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk (AMSR) training for Master’s in Social Work (MSW) students.
H3 walk, ‘Stress Less’ finals week
“Dead Week,” a campus term reflecting stress in the week before finals, needed a reboot. So H3 collaborated with the student-led initiative Huskies for Suicide Prevention & Awareness (HSPA), to launch “Stress Less Week”. That included a partnership with Odegaard Library to bring in therapy dogs and hand out “Stress Less” bags containing supportive items and notes.
Last Spring’s H3 walk (also led by HSPA partners) drew in a record $10,000 in donations towards suicide prevention needs such as training and support resources. With 700 walkers, the event brought together UW students, faculty and staff, community members, and several high schools to honor the lives of loved ones lost to suicide and to share the message that everyone has a role to play in suicide prevention.
NEXT: New leadership, JED Campus, new higher education bill in the works
As the H3 grant sunsets, Davis leaves Forefront for a new role in behavioral health. Shira Rosen, Forefront’s new Director of School and Higher Education Programs, will assist in the transition of H3 to the JED Campus: Forefront partnership.
The four-year statewide initiative, funded by the Jolene McCaw Family Foundation, kicked off last Spring and is collecting data through the Healthy Minds study to monitor progress. It provides a vehicle not only for the UW campus to continue to improve the education and support it offers to students, but for 13 other campuses to participate.
These campuses have all developed strategic plans for what will work best on their campuses to improve behavioral health services, to promote social and emotional wellness and to prevent suicide, and have begun implementing them.
For example, Foo Kune shared that plans are underway for a collaboration between the UW Counseling Center and Hall Health early this year, modeled after Cornell University’s “Let’s Talk” program (which provides easy access to informal, free, and confidential walk-in consultations with counselors). Starting in late January, UW students can opt for informal conversations with counselors at campus departments like Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center (ECC) and the Q Center.
“Forefront has done tremendous work in training gatekeepers to recognize potential warning signs of suicide and how to get students the help they need,” said Foo Kune. As data suggests that a majority of students who die by suicide did not visit a campus counseling center, “outreach is critical to finding ways to reach students earlier, before they are close to the point of suicide.”
2017 legislative priority: Higher education suicide prevention bill
The new legislative session convenes January 9, and Forefront’s major policy priority will helping to support a systems-based approach to suicide prevention in higher educational settings.
Sponsored by State Representative Tina Orwall, the proposed bill aims to provide grant program for suicide prevention funding and innovative partnerships for resource-challenged higher education institutions and to create a free resource for suicide prevention training and protocols for use at any Washington institution of higher education.
The bill (more detail in 2017 legislative policy briefs) also calls for infrastructure and strategic plans to support behavioral health and suicide prevention, as well as partnerships with postsecondary institutions and community crisis lines.