September 28, 2016

SIU receives suicide prevention grant

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 15-34 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With that in mind, a Southern Illinois University Carbondale faculty member has secured a $306,000 grant and will work with campus and off-campus groups to enhance existing suicide prevention efforts and create new programs at SIU.

Dhrubodhi Mukherjee, associate professor and director of the School of Social Work’s Undergraduate Program, received a three-year Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant to fund the project, “It Takes a Village: University-Community Partnership for Suicide Prevention.”

“There has been an increase in the suicide rates in the U.S. among what we call transitional youth, those ages 15-25, and four counties near SIU (Marion, Saline, Franklin and Williamson) have suicide rates among the highest 25 in the state, while Marion and Franklin are in the top five on the list,” Mukherjee said. “Those statistics don’t even include attempted suicides or people with suicidal thoughts and treatable mental health issues such as depression and substance abuse. SIU student issues and incidents are similar to those college students across the country are experiencing but we are being proactive. We already have programs and initiatives in place but we’ve secured the federal grant to enable us to even better help our students.”

The project, in keeping with the “it takes a village” approach, will incorporate the efforts of multiple people, offices and organizations. It will create a multi-layered infrastructure and the goal is that it will stay in place after the grant ends, he said. Those involved in the project include Mukherjee, the College of Education and Human Services’ School of Social Work, and Counseling and Psychological Services, working in conjunction with Veterans Services, the Student Health Services’ Wellness Center and Clinical Center, Non-Traditional Student Services, the Active Minds registered student organization, the Office of Diversity and Equity, the Department of Public Safety, Saluki Cares and Centerstone, a community-based behavioral care center in Carbondale. 

Step one is evaluating what is already in place on campus to help students and establishing protocols to encourage campus and community collaborations and partnerships. A series of educational materials will be created for faculty, staff and students. There will also be workshops and training sessions, teaching people how to look out for one another and signs people are struggling, and what resources and types of assistance are available on campus and in the community. The project also includes creation of a “one-stop information warehouse of campus suicide prevention resources” and efforts to promote the national suicide hotline.

“We want to make this a stigma-free campus and help everyone understand that it’s ok to seek help if you’re having suicidal thoughts or struggling with other issues,” Mukherjee said. “We want to help people deal with problems and traumas that can lead to suicidal thoughts or mental health issues and create an environment where people are trained to recognize signs that other people may be troubled and encourage them to take advantage of the help that is available. We plan to provide comprehensive training across the board and ensure we reach groups that data indicates are more at risk, including veterans, non-traditional students and the LGBTQ community.”

The training sessions themselves are sometimes therapeutic, Mukherjee said, as they provide participants with valuable information they can use to help themselves and others.

An advisory board will help oversee the program and surveys will be conducted to seek input to be used in adapting the program to achieve maximum results, he said.

“We want this to be very comprehensive. The activities won’t take place in isolation. Everyone will be working together and correlating efforts,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee previously received a $1.18 million three-year Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training award from the Human Resources and Services Administration to assist students in studying trauma-focused behavioral health in children, adolescents and transitional youth. He said the work involved with the “Trauma-Based Behavioral Health Fellowship: An Interdisciplinary Graduate Training for Social Work Students in Southern Illinois” dovetails with the new grant project as both look at the ways trauma may cause mental illnesses or issues and then look for ways to treat those problems.