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April 17, 2014 Volume 35, No. 27

Online suicide prevention training for bystanders

See information on suicide prevention resources in sidebar

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, but reaching out to those at risk can prevent a majority of these deaths.

In 2009, Partners in Prevention, a statewide collaborative of 21 higher education institutions including MU, launched a 20-minute online suicide prevention training program with funding from the Missouri Foundation for Health. Called Ask Listen Refer (ALR), the program is designed to help students, faculty and staff learn how to identify the risk factors and warning signs of suicide, how to talk to people who are at risk, and how to get them help.

“One of the biggest misconceptions people have is that if you ask someone about suicide, it’ll give them the idea,” said Joan Masters, senior coordinator of Partners in Prevention at MU. “If somebody is already thinking about suicide enough to give you an indication that you need to ask if they’re thinking about suicide, you’re not going to give them the idea. In fact, it’s the opposite. You’re empowering them to speak about it and get help.” 

Some of the signs and symptoms of suicidal behavior include loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities, trouble concentrating, social withdrawal, messy appearance, change in appetite or weight, and sleep problems. Oftentimes the people who notice these changes in an academic setting are a friend, professor or adviser. 

Although it might seem uncomfortable to ask directly if they are at risk, not saying something is the opposite of what they need. 

“The ‘ask’ in Ask Listen Refer doesn’t have to be, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ ” Masters said. “For a lot of people, it could just be, ‘How are you doing? I just want to check in on you.’ You’re doing them no service by worrying if they’re going to get mad at you.”

ALR provides training participants with a sample conversation and four short video examples of how to talk with at-risk people in various situations, from a concerned co-worker to a faculty member worried about a student.

Jordan Hoyt, a graduate student in public health, took the training when she got an assistantship at the Wellness Resource Center. The training taught Hoyt the signs of suicide and how to encourage them to get help.

“It’s an effective tool for whatever your job description is at Mizzou,” said Hoyt, who worked at MU for five years before enrolling in graduate school. “It’s pertinent not only to what you do here on campus for our community, but also what you’re going to do in your personal life, at home and within your social life. I think it would be useful to have everybody go through this training.”

Since launching the site, nearly 2,000 MU community members and more than 13,000 Missourians have completed the training. Take the training at

— Kelsey Allen

Suicide prevention panel and resources

Mizzou Cares panel discussion

Mizzou Cares, the university’s suicide prevention task force, is hosting a breakfast and panel discussion from 8 to 10 a.m. April 24 in Stotler Lounge for faculty and staff interested in learning more about the At-risk Committee and how to understand the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). 

On the panel are Cathy Scroggs, vice chancellor for student affairs; Brenda Selman, university registrar; Doug Schwandt, assistant chief of MU Police; and Kristen Temple, associate director of residential academic programs for Residential Life. 

Email Kim Nolte at if you’d like to attend. For more information, visit 

Suicide Prevention Resources


  • MU Counseling Center, 119 Parker Hall, 882-6601
  • Student Health Center, 1101 Hospital Drive, 882-1483
  • 24-hour Crisis Line, 800-395-2132
  • MU Employee Assistance Program, 102 Parker Hall, 882-6701
  • University Hospital Emergency Room, 1101 Hospital Drive, 882-8091
  • MU Police Department, 901 Virginia Ave., 882-7201 (or 911 from campus)


  • Boone Hospital Center, 1500 E. Broadway, 815-8000
  • Harry S Truman Veteran’s Hospital, 800 Hospital Drive, 814-6000
  • Columbia Police Department, 600 E. Walnut, 874-7652 (or 911)


  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Crisis Line, 800-833-3915
  • Get Help Now, 800-999-9999
  • LGBTQ Helpline, 1-866-488-7386
  • Veterans’ Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.

— Kelsey Allen