Georgia Tech works to eliminate suicide on campus

Georgia Tech has adopted a "zero suicide" approach to try to prevent suicide on campus.

It's one of the first of its kind in the nation, according to Roland Behm, Chair of the Georgia Chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

To mark National Suicide Prevention Week, Behm wrote and shared the following article with 11Alive News:

"Together: How Georgia Tech Ends Suicide" by Roland Behm

Georgia Tech, one of the country’s top ten public universities, is undertaking a bold new initiative - Tech Ends Suicide Together – that represents a paradigm shift on college campuses from “suicide prevention” to “suicide elimination.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. for age groups 15-24 and 25-34.

There are approximately 20 million students attending American colleges and universities. The 2015 National College Health Assessment estimates that 9.6 percent of those students (1,920,000) experience suicidal thoughts or ideation, 1.6 percent (320,000) makes a suicide attempt, and 7.5 per 100,000 college students (1,500) die by suicide each year.  The assessment also finds that 47% of students say they have not received information on suicide prevention from their colleges and universities.

Tech Ends Suicide Together draws on Zero Suicide, a key concept of the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. The foundational belief of Zero Suicide is that suicide deaths for individuals under care within health and behavioral health systems are preventable. It presents both a bold goal and an aspirational challenge.

Foundational principles of Zero Suicide are being translated to the Georgia Tech campus, using a community healthcare approach that considers each member of the Georgia Tech community as a caregiver and emphasizes the promotion of protective factors against suicide and the reduction of risk factors associated with suicide. Implementation of Tech Ends Suicide Together is being led by the university’s Counseling Center and the Division of Student Life working in close collaboration with more than thirty other campus partners.

The factors leading to a suicide attempt are complex and intensely personal. Some students may have undiagnosed mental illnesses, while others may be struggling academically, or have strained relationships with their parents, guardians, and family members. The National Collegiate Health Assessment finds 27.4% of students have family problems that are traumatic or very difficult to handle and 15.6% of students find themselves faced with the death of a family member.

Ruperto M. “Toti” Perez, director of Georgia Tech’s counseling center, notes that the vast majority of college students who die by suicide are not clients of their respective colleges counseling centers. While increasing access to and providing high-quality mental health treatment services are essential, neither is sufficient to address suicide among college students.

A mosaic of interventions is needed to address the diversity of at-risk individuals, with the goal of identifying students in distress long before they are in crisis. That can be achieved through measures such as having campus health centers screen for anxiety and depression when students come for any reason (e.g. flu shots), actively promoting counseling center services, strengthening peer support organizations, and training students, faculty, and campus personnel to recognize signs of distress.

Tech Ends Suicide Together is unique in its intention to involve all elements of the campus community and in the vocal support of the initiative by Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson. Tech Ends Suicide Together includes participation from the university’s newly established Center for Community Health and Wellbeing, undergraduate and graduate schools, the athletic department, campus housing and residential life organizations, Greek life, the campus police department, and parent and family programs, among others.

The active involvement of Georgia Tech students and student organizations, including the graduate and undergraduate student government associations, is a critical element of Tech Ends Suicide Together.  The initiative will build on existing efforts like peer coaching programs, student-led mental health organizations like the Mental Health Student Coalition, and efforts by Georgia Tech’s Greek community. For example, later this September, Alpha Tau chapter of Kappa Sigma at Georgia Tech will host its third annual “Kick the Stigma” games. The games came in response to the chapter losing one of its own members to suicide and combine suicide prevention awareness efforts with a stress-relieving day of games like kickball and bubble soccer. 


The programmatic approach of Zero Suicide is based on the realization that suicidal individuals often fall through cracks. The challenge and implementation of a Zero Suicide approach cannot be borne solely by those providing clinical care (e.g., psychiatrists, psychologists, psychologists, social workers). Zero Suicide requires a system-wide approach to address the gaps in preventing suicide deaths and suicide attempts.

Georgia Tech is one of the first universities in the U.S. to adopt and implement a comprehensive Zero Suicide-based approach to suicide prevention. Tech Ends Suicide Together is a call by the Georgia Tech community to relentlessly pursue a reduction in suicide and improve the care for those who seek help.

Georgia Tech has a rich tradition of engineering elegant solutions to complex challenges. Tech Ends Suicide Together is a worthy heir to that tradition and a program worth emulating by other colleges, universities, and technical schools.

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), whose congressional district includes Georgia Tech’s campus, said, “It is important for our society to confront mental health problems, which are too often swept under the rug, to define the symptoms that signal a crisis, and begin seeing suicide and other life-threatening mental problems as treatable and preventable health emergencies, like heart attacks or strokes. Georgia Tech has a rich tradition of creating solutions to some of our society’s most complex challenges.  I applaud their effort to help quantify the crisis of suicide and help other campuses and medical communities identify potential life-threatening emergencies before they happen.”

Roland J. Behm is the chair of the Georgia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, an organization whose mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.


(© 2016 WXIA)


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