January 23, 2008

Gannett Aims to Reduce Suicides

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Despite rumors that Ithaca’s gorges and Cornell’s stressful environment give C.U. a high suicide rate, the rate of student suicide on campus has de­creased in recent years.
Nevertheless, the American College Health Association reported in their National College Health Assessment that one out of every 10 college students has seriously contemplated committing suicide in the past year.
With some recent initiatives, the University has worked to reduce the number of student suicides.
Gannett Health Ser­vices has been focusing on making its services more accessible, taking a more pro-active role in students’ lives and educating students, faculty and staff about the signs of suicide and the necessary actions to take if someone needs medical assistance.
Since the inception of these initiatives in 2002, Cornell has had five student suicides. In the six years prior to the initiatives’ implementation, according to Dr. Tim Marchell, director of Mental Health Initiatives for Gannett, there were 11.
“The staff of Gannett has more than doubled over the past ten years,” Marchell said. “Prior to 2002, we hired two new psychologists whose job it is to provide consultation to faculty and staff believed to be in distress, as well to go out and meet with students reluctant to seek medical assistance. In addition, we’ve implemented ‘Let’s Talk Hours,’ which are hours in which counselors from Counseling an Psychological Services hold walk-in consultation hours in ten locations. We also offer a 24-hour phone triage system, which has also helped students have initial conversations with counselors so they can be assessed much more quickly,” he said.
“Our main priorities are making our services more accessible to the community and educating people on how to recognize signs of distress and where to turn for help,” he continued.
Cornell has worked to educate community members on ways to deal with mental distress. In the future, Gannett hopes to expand its efforts to ensure that Cornell students can act as the eyes and ears for people in need of medical attention.
Dmitry Kozhevnikov ’10, a resident advisor in Court Hall, explained his role in caring for the mental health of his residents: “Resident advisors play a significant role in helping students with any immediate problems that they may be dealing with, especially mental health issues. Residential Programs provides training to resident advisors to know how to help residents who show signs of stress and more importantly how to spot a potential crisis before it is too late.”
Sometimes, Cornell chooses to help at-risk students by contacting their parents.
While it may seem positive that Cornell is taking such an active role in the mental health of its students, some view Cornell’s decision to notify parents about some students’ grades or academic standing as an invasion of privacy. Although Cornell’s policies of privacy of students’ health information have not changed, the University has become more open in its stance toward providing parents with academic information.
“Cornell does place a high importance on student privacy,” Marchell said. “When a decision is made to contact parents, that decision is made very carefully and is done so on a fairly limited basis and only when it is deemed important to do so in order to assist a student in distress.”
Although it may seem that Cornell’s recent efforts have caused the recent decline in suicides, Marchell is cautious not to make such an assumption.
“When you look at suicide measures, the frequency is relatively small, one or two a year,” Marchell said. “How much is a trend or a variation between years is hard to tell. We are not in a position to say that x caused y. There potentially may have been a correlation between our additional efforts and a decline in suicide.”