Suicide and Support: What is being done at UMD

By Hannah Klarner
For Unwind magazine

Suicide is the leading-cause of death for American college students. Depression and thoughts of suicide affect even more students across the country. The University of Maryland is not exempt from the national trend of suicides amongst college students, as there have been a number of student deaths at the university in the past few months.

A study by the Suicide Resource Prevention Center estimated about 8 percent of college students seriously consider suicide. The University of Maryland has roughly 37,000 students enrolled, meaning that on the College Park campus, almost 3,000 students may have contemplated suicide.

There are four unique offices that offer mental health treatment for students on the campus. Most notably, University Health and the Counseling Center. The Psychology Clinic and the Center for Healthy Families can also provide mental health services.

Jeri Boliek, a licensed social worker at the University Health Center, discussed the role that the center plays in mental health care.

“Our primary role here in the health center is to have psychiatrists who can provide medication and we are the only program on campus that does that,” she said.

The Health Center has three full-time and four part-time psychiatrists, in addition to social workers and therapists. Health Center specialists perform crisis assessments on students, whether they come in independently, are brought in or referred, so that the level of priority to give treatment can be determined.

A key role the staff plays is “to support the psychiatrists and see students that they are prescribing [medication] for,” Boliek said. “It’s very important that as you’re starting medication you should also be seeing a therapist at the same time, because when you’re beginning a medication, even though it ultimately will help, it’s kind of a destabilizing time. So you need to be talking to someone and learning some tools for coping.”

She also said that when meeting with a student, the psychiatrists, therapists and social workers stress the fact that students are not alone in their feelings, and it does not make them abnormal.

“I can’t tell you how many students I talk to,” Boliek said. “As they describe their situation it’s very clear that they feel weird and odd, and I will say to them ‘I just want you to know I’ve heard this story many many times. You’re not the only person going through this. People just aren’t admitting it out there. It’s very common what you’re experiencing.’”

Another source for mental health help on campus is the Counseling Center, which focuses on therapy, either individual or group, to help students.

David Petersen, the associate director of the center, said preventing suicide and other mental health issues is about addressing problems before they get worse.

The Counseling Center is open until 9 p.m. every day except Fridays, while the Health Center closes at 5 p.m. The Counseling Center also has an after-hours crisis line, which is manned by trained counselors.

Petersen said that the center treated approximately 2,000 students in the 2014-15 academic year. He also said there has been an increase in the number of students coming in for therapy, which could be connected to a recent study.

“There’s research that indicates that it’s due to decreased stigma and more outreach related to mental health services,” Petersen said. “So on the one hand it keeps us really busy and we’re really working harder than ever to see as many students as possible, but it’s for a good reason.”

An important thing for people to understand, Petersen added, is “seeking help is a sign of strength.”

Both Petersen and Boliek said their centers perform outreach to inform students of their services. The Health Center website has a list of warning signs, both for international and domestic students, and a link to Kognito, an online training platform to help all members of the University of Maryland community better understand the warning signs of depression.

Resources are an issue for the Health Center, Boliek said.

“There are never enough providers,” she said. “It’s such a struggle, and sometimes people really want to be seen right away for medicine, and it may be two or three weeks down the road before we can fit them in. Depending on the situation sometimes we squeeze someone in by canceling somebody else’s appointment.”

Boliek also said that the lack of resources prohibits the Health Center from performing as much outreach to inform students.

“Not having enough people to do outreach can be difficult because we’re really more in demand for our clinical services,” she said. “We don’t have time to go out there because we have crises going on in-house we need to be addressing.”

If you or anyone you know is having depressive thoughts or thoughts of suicide, you can find help at the following numbers: University Health can be reached at (301-314-8106) for critical care. The Counseling Center after hours helpline can be reached at (301)314-7651. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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