UT Counseling and Mental Health Center

Elizabeth Wilson, a counseling psychology graduate student, talks about suicide prevention in the Union Tuesday evening. Wilson told students the warning signs of suicide and ways to help people get counseling.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students, a statistic UT Counseling and Mental Health Center officials hope can be minimized by raising awareness in the campus community.

Monday marked the beginning of UT’s fourth annual Suicide Prevention Week, organized by the Counseling and Mental Health Center. Throughout the week, the center will present seven interactive programs focusing on topics like learning to cope with a death by suicide and recognizing the signs of suicidal thoughts.

“We want to help remove the stigma from suicide prevention and mental health,” health education coordinator Marian Trattner said. “This week is in place to make students aware that there are resources out there to support them.”

Trattner said an average of three UT students die by suicide each year, which is consistent with the national average. Eighteen percent of undergraduate students in the United States have seriously considered suicide, said Jane Bost, associate director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center.

Trattner said organizers are changing this year’s suicide prevention week so it has a greater focus on social media and its role in suicide prevention. She said students are urged to follow UT’s Counseling and Health Services on Twitter and post any questions they may have about suicide or suicide prevention using the hashtag #SPWChat. The Twitter conversation will continue throughout the week using the hashtag #UTSPW. The center is also presenting an interactive program on suicide prevention via social networking sites Wednesday.

“There has been an increase in the media about people who reach out and cry out about suicide through social media, particularly through Facebook and Twitter,” Trattner said. “Since we have these outlets and tools, we want to continue to use them in a positive way.”

Bethanie Olivan, president of the UT chapter of To Write Love On Her Arms, a nonprofit movement aimed at helping people struggling with depression, self-injury and suicide, said she thinks the problem is prevalent in college students because of the stressors present during that time in their life.

“Our identities aren’t totally clear yet, so many people end up rooting their identities in grades and how others perceive them,” Olivan said. “When things in these realms go wrong, it can lead to a sense of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide.”

Bost said one of the goals of Suicide Prevention Week is to encourage students to take advantage of all of the suicide prevention resources the University has available. The UT Counseling and Mental Health Center offers in-house psychiatric services, stress reduction exercises and free year-round telephone counseling to help students deal with depression and suicidal thoughts.

“There is nothing shameful or embarrassing about your struggle,” Olivan said. “Reaching out for help is the best thing you can do and is a sign of strength. Therapy or medication can be the difference between life and death.”

Suicide Prevention Week ends Friday at the Texas Union building in room 3.116 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. with a workshop aimed at teaching students to recognize the signs of suicidal thoughts in their friends and refer them to professional help.

Printed on Wednesday, September 26, 2012 as: Suicide prevention week informs students

Senior biochemistry major Byron Barksdale conducts a yoga demonstration Wednesday afternoon at Stressfest. The annual event aimed to expose students to techniques for effectively managing the stresses of college life.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

Final exams and the accompanying stress are fast approaching, but campus organizations are here to help.

Students gathered at West Mall yesterday for the 15th annual StressFest, to discover new and effective ways to relieve stress. Sponsored by the UT Parents’ Association and University Federal Credit Union, StressFest was hosted by the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center and featured organizations from across campus and beyond who exposed students to healthy ways of managing stress, CMHC associate director Dr. Jane Morgan Bost said.

Clinical laboratory science junior Huy Doan sipped on a slush from Jim-Jim’s Italian Water Ice, which handed out free water ice slushes, a healthier alternative to snow cones at the event. Doan said he is stressed about trying to maintain his GPA and trying to succeed in his classes and felt refreshed by the festival.

Business freshman Alexandra Arzuaga visited the CMHC acupuncture station and said she has never done acupuncture before but was excited to try it.

“I’m stressed about finals,” Arzuaga said. “I feel like this event is a great way to get our minds off of school for a bit and to learn new ways to take care of your body when you get stressed.”

Staff psychologist and outreach coordinator Dr. Laura Ebady was this year’s StressFest coordinator and said the event had the biggest turnout she has ever seen with an estimated 2,500 attendees.

“During this time of year, especially before finals, we want to help students discover the different resources on campus for stress relief, provide some on-the-spot stress relievers and give students some useful stress management tips in the coming weeks before finals,” Ebady said.

A wide variety of activities and booths were present in order to appeal to everyone and to cover every type of stress, whether it be financial stress, emotional stress, academic stress or health stress, Ebady said.

Anxiety disorder specialist Diana Damer provided a fun demonstration of cognitive therapy at the fortune telling booth. Cognitive therapy is a version of psychotherapy for depression highlighting the replacement of negative thoughts with positive ones. Students were given a situation and a variety of responses and were asked to choose their most likely response to the situation. If a self-defeating style of thinking was chosen, students were told they can change their fortunes by changing their thoughts.

“Many people think that situations and events cause our emotional stresses, but it’s really our beliefs, thoughts and interpretations that shape our perception of such things,” Damer said. “Positive thinking is not the only solution to self-defeating thoughts. One must learn to be as positive as they can, while still being realistic.”

Damer works with multiple campus groups in CMHC, such as The Courage to Be Imperfect Group and Build Your Social Confidence Group, all of which are free and confidential.

Senior social worker Alicia Garces worked the CMHC multicultural center booth which displayed two large comment boards with the questions “What stresses you out the most as a student of color?” and “What do students of color need to succeed on campus?” Garces said this informal, anonymous environment is an effective way of discovering and gathering such information.

“We are not making assumptions,” Garces said. “We are asking for the thoughts of students and trying to figure out which components on campus are the same and which are different. It’s important to know what the UT campus is providing for minority groups to meet their success.”

Garces said CMHC wants to hear minority group experiences on campus in order to better serve minority groups who attend CMHC.

For an instant stress reliever, students played with therapy dogs from Therapy Pet Pals of Texas, Inc., a volunteer organization based out of Austin.

Volunteer John Nettle brought his Norwich Terrier and said Therapy Pet Pals of Texas brings dogs to nursing homes, hospitals and physical therapy clinics for some small scale stress relief of those present.

“We’re all dog lovers who volunteer our time and pets for a good cause,” Nettle said.

More UT students who go to the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center have urgent needs or serious mental health issues than in the past, according to center administrators.

This trend parallels similar changes nationwide. According to the American College Counseling Association’s 2010 national survey, 91 percent of counseling center directors reported a trend toward more severe cases at their colleges. The number of urgent student mental health cases has significantly increased for at least the past 10 years, according to the association’s survey.

At UT and nationwide, more students present mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, learning disabilities or psychiatric medication issues.

Since he became director of the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center in 2006, Dr. Chris Brownson said he has noticed a change in problems students bring to the center.

“I’d say in my time at the counseling center, we have seen an increase in the severity,” Brownson said. “At the same time, students still come in for other reasons, like dealing with a relationship or dealing with anxiety they feel is holding them back in classes.”

Dr. Jane Morgan Bost, associate director of the center, said the causes of these increases haven’t been researched fully but have a few probable causes. She said students today face increased academic pressures and widespread economic difficulties and uncertainty. Also, a higher number of students with serious mental health issues are able to attend college because of what newer medications and treatments contribute, she said.

Jared Loughner, the suspect in the Jan. 8 Arizona shooting that left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in intensive care, showed signs of mental illness before the incident. Pima Community College, which Loughner briefly attended, identified warning signs of a potential mental illness in Loughner before the shooting. Although the college contacted Loughner’s parents, he never received medical attention from the school.

Loughner will appear in court before a federal judge Monday for his arraignment.

For cases where students present warning signs of mental illness or danger to other students, UT operates a Behavior Concerns Advice Line.

Bost said the behavior advice line helps the University find and address mental health issues similar to those Loughner presented. She said the line is operated by the Office of the Dean of Students and multiple UT departments. She said the Division of Student Affairs, the UT Center for Counseling and Mental Health, Services for Students with Disabilities and the UT Police Department all work together closely to provide students with the services they need.
She said a call on the advice line could result in anything from a call from student affairs to the beginning of a counseling program.

UTPD Detective Michael Riojas said when the line receives a tip, they usually notify the police department. Riojas said the police department usually takes action on a few cases a month, but the load distribution is inconsistent.

After being notified of a concern, Riojas said the department does research on the student in question and usually ends up either bringing the student in for a discussion with the dean of the Division of Student Affairs or sending out officers to interview the student.