Purdue Aware brings additional suicide prevention training to campus

Six years ago, Project COMPASS set out to provide suicide awareness, education, and training to the Purdue Fort Wayne community.

Now, Purdue Aware extends the mission of Project COMPASS (Community Partners Against Student Suicide) to train our community to recognize the signs of mental and emotional distress, and to refer those in need of services to the appropriate provider.

“With this, we’re taking it a step farther and covering overall mental/emotional distress,” Dr. Jeannie DiClementi said, “and training people to recognize [that] but also be comfortable in referring students to the program.”

Both programs are available to the community at no cost.

Purdue Aware grew out of a perceived need for more training for faculty and staff to assist students.

“Over the life of Project COMPASS, we have gotten more and more frequent calls from faculty and staff with questions like, ‘What do I do?’” DiClementi said, “and so, it was only natural that we then apply for this program to help answer those questions as they come up.

“It is a mental health awareness and training program to train faculty, staff, administrators, any interested students, parents, whomever,” she continued, “on signs of emotional distress in students. I’m defining emotional distress as anything that may be situational, like bad grades or relationship issues, all the way up to signs of a mental illness.”

DiClementi described the new program as a natural extension of Project COMPASS.

Mary Ross, who serves as both project director for Project COMPASS and as project manager for Purdue Aware, explained more of Project COMPASS’s mission.

“We do suicide prevention, education, and training, especially gatekeeper training,” she said. “We provide that to students, staff, faculty, and we provide it to the community in addition to that, and we always have this available at no cost.

“It’s a three-hour training, and at any point you can certainly find us at compass@pfw.edu for trainings and information and education.”

Ross also discussed Take 5, an initiative outlining steps to take to help those suffering from mental distress.

The five steps, she said, are:

  • knowing the warning signs of suicide;
  • knowing the suicide hotline number (1-800-273-TALK);
  • self-care;
  • being aware of others and paying attention for those warning signs;
  • and talking to at least five people about Take 5.

“One of the things that we do is, we use a cup with those warning signs on it,” Ross said. “We asked a lot of the departments here on campus – besides outside, community agencies – to provide us with information on how they can be helpful.”

That information is included on slips of paper in the cups, which are handed out to community members.

“So, that fifth step in Take 5 is we ask you to go out and talk to at least five people about what you learned through Take 5 and all the information that you received in the cup,” Ross said. “By doing this last year, we were able to get out to almost 3,000 people on campus.”

Local agencies are also getting involved.

“We’re partnering with Park Center and Bowen Center to provide backup on terms of assessment and then treatments,” DiClementi said. “The grant required that we have letters of commitment from agencies in the community, and they were more than willing to work with us on this new program.”

DiClementi said that six years ago, Project COMPASS set up a table and offered free, random screenings of students walking past. After the first screening day, 12 of 200 screened students needed to be seen by mental health professionals immediately. Four of those needed to be hospitalized.

An additional 20 students came to the counseling center within the next couple of days seeking help.

“That’s probably 25 percent or more of students we selected randomly on campus that would have fallen through the cracks had we not been out there,” DiClementi said, noting that those numbers have not decreased since.

The screening tables are set up at various campus events – or just on a random afternoon – and are run by student interns, such as Heather Phillips. Students answer the questionnaire, then score themselves before turning the paper over to the interns, who pass it along to DiClementi and/or Ross.

Ross said that, in addition to the benefits to the program, the internships offer Purdue Fort Wayne students a chance to grow. Phillips concurred.

“Project COMPASS has built great communication skills in me, and it has given me more confidence in talking with others,” she said. “I’ve been a student intern for about three semesters, and I plan on doing it another semester.”

Purdue Aware trainings will be available starting in 2019. Project COMPASS trainings are available now, to all who are interested. Email compass@pfw.edu for more information, or to set up a training.

Both programs are funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the federal government.

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