Bill adds suicide prevention to college campuses
The Jonesboro Sun - 3/20/2017
JONESBORO - It is not unusual for Nikolaj Dahl to hear homesickness brought up in conversations with other international students studying at Arkansas State University.
"Some get depressed so if they had someone to talk to that would be good," said Dahl, a freshman international business major from Denmark.
Ensuring that help - or at least knowledge of where college students can get information on available mental health and suicide prevention services - is the main gist of House Bill 1666.
The bill passed Friday in the state House of Representatives by a vote of 85-1, with 14 representatives not voting. It was forwarded that same day to the Senate.
HB1666 would require private and public colleges and universities in Arkansas to provide that information to all incoming students through a live presentation or a format that allows for student interaction including an online program or video. It could not be given in a paper format only.
If passed, those students would learn what services are available through the institution and associated organizations or programs as well as early warning signs that someone may be considering suicide.
Dahl recalls seeing past efforts at Arkansas State, such as banners hung in the student union, to educate students on the topic. He said he does not need it, but it could help others, so it is a good idea.
Seven percent of college students give suicide serious thought. It is a national statistic, but Arkansas State's rate is pretty consistent with it. Earlier in the school year, counseling center director Phil Hestand said that is about 1,000 of Arkansas State's 14,074 students.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students. Nationwide, it is the 10th-leading cause of death.
It is an issue that Hestand and others constantly combat. Among the efforts are the counseling center's annual suicide prevention awareness week held in September - the past one included training sessions to teach students how to help their peers - as well as Residence Life employee training on how to recognize the symptoms and provide help.
The counseling center also has a person on call at all times. The University Police Department automatically contacts that person when they respond to reports of a person with suicidal thoughts.
Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable mental disorder at the time of their death, according to the counseling center. For anyone who recognizes the warning signs in someone else, Hestand has recommended speaking up.
"If you recognize it, OK, the first thing is you acknowledge there is a problem," Hestand has said. "Let that person know you care and notice they are having a tough time, and encourage them to get into treatment."
He encourages people to be direct in asking if the person is considering suicide and offer to accompany the person to treatment if the person is afraid to go alone. It's important to let mental health professionals know upfront the person is suicidal, and it is a crisis, so help can be provided in a timely manner.
Individuals considering suicide are encouraged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, dial 911 or go immediately to the nearest hospital emergency room for an evaluation.
Arkansas State University students are also encouraged to follow up with an ASU counselor. The Counseling Center may be reached at 972-2318. For after hours emergencies, call the University Police Department at 972-2093 and ask them to contact the on-call counselor.