Wayne State Warriors work to prevent suicide through campus and community initiatives

Wayne State University was awarded a three-year, Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant worth $305,354.

With this grant, the WSU Suicide Prevention Initiative developed and is implementing a program of education, training, and mental health and suicide prevention awareness for faculty, staff, students, families, and the community. Wayne State’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), College of Nursing, Campus Health Center, and the School of Social Work collaborated on the grant proposal.

As part of the initiative, a full-time suicide prevention coordinator was hired and nearly 4,000 people across the university will participate in the three-year project. Other key roles will include staff and faculty from Wayne State’s Department of Psychology, Dean of Students Office, and the Office of Multicultural Student Engagement.

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Although all members of the campus are included, this initiative provides targeted programs and outreach to students at particular risk including those who identify themselves as LGBTQ, military veterans, those living in campus residence halls, minority students, and those with mental health disabilities.

Most notably, since March the School of Social Work has trained nearly 200 university students and employees in mental health first aid (MHFA), a national program for recognizing the signs of mental illness or substance misuse and referring individuals to treatment. As a participant in Wayne State’s campus-wide Suicide Prevention Initiative, the school, in collaboration with the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority, has conducted 10 eight-hour MHFA trainings for student groups, staff at the Campus Health Center, tutors and counselors at Academic Pathways to Excellence (APEX), approximately 100 academic and athletic advisors, and staff at Housing & Residential Life, the Dean of Students Office, and the Office of Federal TRIO.

Social Work’s contributions to the program are led by Shantalea Johns, an academic services officer and the lead MHFA trainer, Caitlin Brown, manager of research support who conducts MHFA training evaluations, and Associate Professor Michael Kral, a suicidologist and co-creator of the university’s suicide research group.

Johns has conducted youth MHFA training for the campus community since 2013, when the School of Social Work and the Michigan Area Health Education Center received federal funding to train Greater Detroit professionals. In 2017, Johns was trained in adult and higher education MHFA as part of the Suicide Prevention Initiative. She said the purpose of the trainings is to increase the likelihood that a person experiencing a mental health crisis will cross paths with someone who can help.

Rachel Pawlowski, an academic advisor in the Irvin D. Reid Honors College, has taken the MHFA training twice. Although a licensed professional counselor, Pawlowski said the trainings have provided her with strategies for “starting a conversation” with students who have not come to her for counseling. Pawlowski said the trainings have also provided her with an important higher education context, helping her debunk misconceptions people often have about honors students – most notably that they don’t experience mental health problems.


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