ATLANTA – All seven schools and colleges on Mercer University's Atlanta campus are combining their efforts for the second consecutive year to encourage the community to "Reach Out, Speak Out" during National Suicide Prevention Week on Sept. 7-13.
Four days of events are scheduled to communicate the message that there is hope and there is help for those contemplating suicide, which is the second-leading cause of death among college students.
The primary focus of this year's "Reach Out, Speak Out" initiative is suicide prevention training. Event organizers as well as the University's Student Counseling Services are sponsoring Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) training sessions for students, faculty and administrators throughout the week. QPR is the most widely taught, evidence-based gatekeeper training program in the United States, as more than one million people have been trained in classroom settings and online.
Dr. Kathy Robinson, assistant professor of counseling in Penfield College of Mercer University, will conduct training sessions for students in Wooten Auditorium on Sept. 9 at 12 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sally vander Straeten, suicide prevention coordinator for the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, will conduct training sessions for faculty and administrators in McAfee School of Theology Room 129 on Sept. 10 at 10 a.m., 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. Reservations are required, as seating is limited for these sessions, and can be made online or by contacting Yiskah Tucker at (678) 547-6824 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to the training sessions, information tables will be set up at 10 locations around campus Monday through Thursday to provide suicide prevention materials from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, as well as "Reach Out, Speak Out" stickers and other promotional materials. A prize patrol will reward students wearing these stickers during the week.
Perimeter Pet Pals – a non-profit, volunteer-driven initiative aimed at promoting love, courage and empowerment to people in need through interaction with highly trained pets and their handlers – will present pet therapy techniques in the Swilley Library on Monday and Wednesday at 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. each day.
A reflection wall will be set up at various events throughout the week for students to artistically express their thoughts about family and friends who struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts or mental health conditions.
A candlelight vigil, hosted by McAfee School of Theology, will close out the week's events on Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. outside the Atlanta Administration and Conference Center.
Additionally, several schools and colleges are hosting sessions for their students to address how suicide impacts their discipline specifically.
The "Reach Out, Speak Out" initiative was developed last year by Dr. Robinson and several students representing Chi Sigma Iota, an international honor society for counselors, as well as the Student Affiliate Organization and Active Minds, two student groups related to counseling and mental health. The initiative quickly expanded to include other student organizations on campus.
The goal is threefold: first, to increase awareness of suicide prevention on campus; second, to create a safe environment for students to speak out, find their voice and ask for help; and third, to build resilience in students against suicide.
This year, the initiative has expanded to include the University's Douglas County and Henry County Regional Academic Centers, as suicide prevention materials will be distributed at those locations on World Suicide Prevention Day, Sept. 10.