Warning: the following blog mentions suicide and other subjects pertaining to suicide.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or suicidepreventionlifeline.org
New Grant and Face on Campus
Death by suicide has always been an issue in Wyoming, so the University of Wyoming took an initiative to get funding for better mental health programs and hired on Amanda Matthews, the new Campus Suicide Prevention Coordinator.
At the end of November of last year, UW was among 19 colleges and universities in the country that was awarded the Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention grant after Lena Newlin, Assistant Director of the Wellness Center, wrote the grant and submitted it to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. UW’s Lifesavers Initiative, a comprehensive suicide prevention program, received nearly $102,000 per year for three years.
However, this isn’t the first time UW has received a grant regarding this subject. Newlin said this is UW’s third grant, with the first two being funded about 10 years ago. After the second grant, the university was no longer eligible to apply for that funding, but some requirements changed the past year with the eligibility. Due to their newfound qualification and still having a significant need to address suicide prevention, UW applied once again.
“This grant is really to promote upstream suicide prevention, host a plethora of different help seeking opportunities for students, creating programming around mental health awareness and ending stigma, and ensuring that all of our students and vulnerable populations have the resources they need,” Matthews said.
Beginning work in June, Matthews says her position is always growing and changing because of how new it is to campus, but with the grant coming up on its first year and only lasting for two more, it poses some questions and concerns for the program and Matthews’ position. Both Matthews and Newlin commented that it’s a lot of front loading and figuring out how to sustain programming and the new position and showing the need to keep the position.
The Suicide Epidemic in Wyoming
The need for suicide prevention is there and relevant on campus. A “traditional” college-aged student is under 25, and in Wyoming, the first leading cause of death is suicide for ages 15-24 according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (ASFP). For the state as a whole, suicide is the seventh leading cause of death and three times as many people died by suicide in Wyoming in 2017 than in alcohol related motor vehicle accidents.
Being in and coming into a rural community, there’s perceptions and stigmatization of the “cowboy mentality” and not reaching out for help or other resources. A lot of Matthews’ marketing campaign has to do with ending the stigma and show that being “cowboy tough” means taking care of each other and reaching out. However, that’s not the only reason people in Wyoming, or the Mountain West choose to end their life through suicide.
“There are several explanations [for someone choosing suicide],” psychology professor and suicide in the Mountain West researcher Carolyn Pepper said. “One is isolation, we don’t have that many people around, another is who is attracted to live in this part of the country, being a frontier area, people have always moved here who see themselves as self-sufficient, able to solve their own problems and they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, so that doesn’t lend itself for asking for help.”
The university offers and offered a number or programs before Matthews position, including all of the Wellness Center programming and the Counseling Center, but many people aren’t even aware of these resources or what steps are best for them. This is where Matthews comes in.
Not only did UW create the Suicide Prevention Coordinator position to triangulate and streamline services while keeping initiatives going, Matthews also provides a safe space to go to. A new program available is that any student can make an appointment with Matthews to do a mental health screening, talk to her about the resources on campus, what their options are without going directly to the Counseling Center and asses what they want to do with her. It’s a conversational area and not a counseling situation.
The goal and plan is to sustain what is happening during the grant and continuing to give the UW community more personalized resources. Matthews is already making steps in the right direction and dedicating her time to mental health and suicide prevention.
On top of Matthews position being created, the Laramie community just hired a Community Suicide Prevention Coordinator and a Community Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator, and Matthews has been working closely with those individuals. The athletics department is also working towards hiring a welfare coordinator.
Newlin said it best, “Ultimately we want to save lives, prevent suffering, connect people to resources and help people feel a greater sense of belonging.”