“Ask. Listen. Get help.”
These are the haunting words students at the University of West Florida are seeing on posters all across campus. Engaging as they may be, the message on the posters goes much deeper for those who have lost a loved one to suicide.
Andrea Cooper knows that heartache all too well. On New Year’s Eve of 1995, she said, she and her husband found their only child, Kristin, dead from a self-inflicted gun-shot wound.
Kristin Cooper was a sophomore at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan. She was an elementary education major and an active member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.
“We never dreamed we would lose our daughter, and certainly not to suicide,” Cooper wrote on her blog, “Kristin’s Story.” The site was created to share Kristin’s story and to help spread suicide awareness among college students, much like the new efforts to boost suicide prevention at UWF.
UWF received more than $100,000 in grant money this August from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
This money is meant to aid the UWF Suicide Outreach and Support program (SOS). The program has recently begun its poster campaign promoting suicide awareness.
April Glenn, a therapist at UWF Counseling and Wellness Services, said she hopes the six-poster series will “dispel suicide myths, reduce stigma regarding mental health treatment, promote help seeking and provide brief educational tips on how students can help a friend in crisis.”
The newly funded program may help ensure that Kristin’s story is not repeated.
Cooper has spent the last 13 years traveling across the country, telling her daughter’s story on campuses and sharing presentations on what every student is capable of doing to prevent suicide. She spoke at UWF in February 2009 and said she is very eager to return.
“Students get so wrapped up in the world of college,” she said in a telephone interview. “We just need to be more aware of how the person next to us is feeling and be ready to be good listeners.”
For months, no one knew what sent her spiraling into a depression. She had been raped, but as an avid writer, retreated to the pages of her journal rather than confiding in others.
When Kristin finally did tell a friend, the friend did not take action. A few weeks later, Kristin took her own life, and it wasn’t until her mother read her journal that anyone else knew why.
“When someone is in that really dark place, he or she is not thinking logically,” Cooper said of her daughter’s depression.
She said the SOS program at UWF, coupled with future advancements in the suicide prevention program with the help of the grant money, has great potential to prevent other students from reaching that same dark place.
The American Association of Suicidology estimates that there are more than 1,000 suicides on college campuses around the nation each year.
Risk factors for suicide in college students include depression, sadness, hopelessness and stress.
Among other things, the SOS program will train faculty, staff and students to recognize suicide warning signs.
The grant will also fund a suicide prevention coalition to coordinate, design and review policies related to suicide prevention and crisis response as well as a student organization network to provide educational activities aimed at decreasing stigma associated with mental illness and help-seeking.
“So much of preventing suicide is being aware,” Cooper said. “This program is going to do wonderful things.”
Any student who has experienced depression or suicidal thoughts or knows someone who has experienced feelings of depression, is encouraged to seek help. Counseling and Wellness Services offers free and confidential counseling to students.
For more information contact the office at 474-2420. If there is greater urgency, call the 24/7 crisis hotline: 1-800-273-TALK.