The University of Wyoming is one of 19 universities awarded the Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention grant. The grant, in memory of an Oregon college student who died by suicide in 2003, awards $102,000 each year for three years, giving UW a total of around $306,000 in funds to use for wellness initiatives as well as suicide awareness and prevention.
“We’re hoping that people will know more about their resources, receive more training on mental health issues and also really help us to identify people who may be at risk and then connect them to resources,” said Lena Newlin, assistant director at the Half Acre Recreation and Wellness Center.
UW said in a press release that a comprehensive suicide prevention program, the Lifesavers Initiative, applied for the grant through the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services administration. The Half Acre Recreation and Wellness Center will be administering the grant to different programs for mental health education and training through the Lifesaver Initiative.
Newlin said the Wellness Center, unlike UW’s Counseling Center, focuses on preventative care and mental health wellness to give people guidance on where to go for their needs, and to hopefully prevent a crisis.
“We do what’s called upstream prevention,” Newlin said. “We don’t provide treatment or therapy per say, but we can connect people to those services, whether those be mental health services at the Counseling Center or physical health services at Student Health Service. We can connect people to that.”
Wyoming ranks third nationally in suicides per capita, Newlin said in UW’s news release about the grant. An estimated 10,500 students, faculty and staff will be helped throughout the grant lifetime, especially those at high risk of suicide, including military veterans, athletes with sustained concussions or victims of sexual violence, according to the release.
While it’s hard to compile good data for comparing suicide rates on college campuses, Newlin said the Wellness Center does look at a variety of factors, including students reporting mental health concerns or trips to Ivinson Memorial Hospital’s Behavioral Health Center.
“Attending college is actually a protective factor, but that doesn’t mean necessarily that we are immune to this,” Newlin said. “We have our share of mental health concerns here on campus. We’re not unique at UW by any means.”
Newlin added protective factors are ways students can promote healthy habits in their lives for them to focus on when they’re struggling. Part of the grant would be used to further promote the factors, which are part of a nationally-recognized Sources of Strength program, Newlin said. The program emphasizes eight protective areas: mental health, family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, generosity, spirituality and medical access.
“Sources of Strength is actually a resiliency-based program,” Newlin said. “It’s a national, evidence-based best practice. We try to focus on building up those areas and helping students recognize those areas in their lives.”
In addition to implementing additional training and campaigns for the Sources of Strength program, UW’s news release said the grant would also be used to pay for salary and benefits for a 10-month project coordinator for the initiatives.
Newlin said the Wellness Center also plans to use the grant money to promote local mental health resources. Anyone can call or text 307-977-7777 to reach the Albany County Suicide Prevention Hotline.
“We really want to prevent suicide,” Newlin said. “But ultimately, we really want to implement a real strategic and comprehensive approach that really addresses the environment, so that we can prevent mental health crises and provide support to people who need it.”