UI announces suicide prevention training requirement for incoming students and RAs

The UI announced it will begin requiring suicide-prevention training for incoming students, resident assistants, and faculty and staff.


Lily Smith

The Old Capitol is seen on Nov. 25, 2018.

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

The University of Iowa will soon begin online suicide-prevention training for students entering the university and for resident assistants.

The online training will be a requirement for students to take before their first year begins, University Counseling Service Director Barry Schreier said at the Feb. 27 state Board of Regents meeting. The UI is working on ways to provide this training for faculty and staff as well, he said.

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All three regent universities cite stress and anxiety as the top two factors that affect a student’s academic performance, said Erin Baldwin, the Iowa State University assistant vice president for student health and wellness. The universities have also seen an increase in suicidal ideation, self-harm, and suicide attempts, along with sleep deprivation and loneliness, she said.

The UI specifically reported in the 2018 National College Health Report survey that in the last 12 months, 9 percent of students self-harmed, 13.4 percent seriously considered suicide, and 4 percent attempted suicide.

According to the report, 18.2 of students reported being diagnosed with depression in the last year. The report says all of the statistics on mental health are the highest levels in the past several years and are higher than the statistics from five years ago.

“Not all the students are going to come to the Counseling Service,” Schreier said. “They’re often going to turn to the people they know when they’re in distress, so making sure those folks feel the confidence to lean into a student when they are noticing distress or they’re being approachable to a student in distress.”

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RAs are trained to have conversations about suicidal-ideations and connect students to on-campus resources, UISG Sen. Amber Crow, a Petersen Hall RA, said in an email to The Daily Iowan.

RAs are not trained to be counselors for students but rather as support for students who may be struggling, she said.

“We know when people, especially students, are struggling with mental health, sexual assaults, academics, etc., they are more likely to turn to a peer rather than a service,” Crow said. “Turning to peers and friends is easier because of access, stigma, and comfort.”

The training through the program will allow students to help their peers who may be struggling with mental health, Crow said. The goal of the program is to help students identify risk factors and respond appropriately to situations that may arise, she said.

Having suicide-prevention training will allow RAs to assess what is going on in a situation with a student and be able to provide that student with the best resources, said Von Stange, the UI assistant vice president for Housing & Dining.

The UI has had suicide-prevention programs in the past, he said. It was a grant-funded program on which Housing & Dining partnered with University Counseling Service, and the grant eventually ran out.

“What we’re finding that a lot of the mental-health issues, some of them come to the RAs because of concerned peers,” Stange said.

As of right now, the contracts with the program company haven’t been officially signed, Crow said, and UISG will propose legislation for the additional technology fee for the program’s implementation in the coming weeks, Crow said.

“It’s important that we empower our entire campus because it’s not just students living in residence halls who are struggling,” Crow said. “It’s our staff and faculty, our nontraditional students, or graduate students, and our off-campus students, too.”

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