February 15, 2012

University Will Host Conference to Explain New Mental Health Program

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This summer, Cornell will host a conference for other universities interested in learning about Gannett Health Center’s Notice and Respond program. Now in its fourth semester, the program trains students, faculty and staff to recognize and respond to depression and suicidal behavior.

Though registration for the conference has not begun, several universities have expressed interest in implementing similar initiatives on their own campuses, according to Laura Santacrose ’11, a Gannett public health fellow.

“We’ve had people reach out to Cornell and ask to use the program on their own campus,” she said.

Following a string of student suicides in the spring of 2010, the University spent $575,000 on mental health initiatives –– $350,000 went toward the construction of seven bridge barriers around campus, while $150,000 supported mental health counseling, The Sun reported.

Since its creation, all freshman engineers have been required to participate in Notice and Respond. However, freshman engineers are not considered to be more at risk for depression than other students, Santacrose said. Instead, they are required to enter the program because it is funded by a donation from the family of William Wilson ’62, an alumnus of the College of Engineering, according to Jan Talbot, a Gannett health educator.

The program has been extended to a wide variety of students across campus –– including teaching assistants, tutors, members of athletic teams and Cornell University Emergency Medical Services volunteers –– bringing the total number of students who have participated since its creation to more than 2,800, according to Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations at Gannett.

“We’ve also worked really hard to provide the program for students in leadership positions,” she said.

Notice and Respond is divided into two programs: “Friend 2 Friend,” which is for students, and a second program for faculty and staff. Both are designed to help people recognize when students need help and how to help them.

“The goal of each of these programs is to work with members of our community to help them to be able to notice when someone is showing signs and symptoms of distress,” Dittman said. “A further goal is to help them consider a variety of ways in which they might be helpful in these situations, and that doesn’t mean turning everyone in to a counselor.”

The program encourages students to talk with friends in need, even if they are worried that the conversation will be uncomfortable, according to Dittman.

“I’ve been in the business and I still have that little queasy feeling inside when I am faced with the need, the challenge of expressing my concern to someone,” Dittman said. “We all have different things come to mind of why we wouldn’t do this … I know personally that fear that you’re intruding in someone else’s business, but when it comes down to someone’s health or their life, I know it is worth taking a risk with my own comfort.”

Participants watch a video that shows a student — or in the faculty version, a professor — approaching a student who is displaying signs of depression and then having a conversation. The programs make use of these videos, in combination with a discussion, because studies have shown that people react more favorably to an emotional appeal, rather than just a discussion or lecture, according to Dittman.

“Both of these programs have been shown to be very effective because they give people something that they can react to,” she said. “It makes it easier for people to extrapolate in their own minds.”

Early results from surveys of students who participated indicate that Notice and Respond has been successful.

“We are doing evaluation of the ‘Friend 2 Friend’ program and we are very pleased … they have shown that students report increases in their ability to recognize signs of distress in a friend,” Dittman said. “[They report] increases in their ability to persist in the conversation about these signs of distress… [and] increases in their ability to use resources.”

Original Author: Joseph Niczky

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