Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college students — but it doesn’t have to be. Studies show that most students struggling with mental illness report improvement within six weeks after beginning professional counseling. That’s why Christy Hutton, outreach and communications coordinator at the MU Counseling Center, developed a program aimed at helping employees recognize students in mental distress and steering them toward campus resources.
Called RESPOND, the program was announced Nov. 6 at a launch event in the Leadership Auditorium at the MU Student Center. Besides Hutton, Jim Spain, vice provost for undergraduate studies, and Cathy Scroggs, vice chancellor for student affairs, spoke at the event, which was attended by about 40 people.
“A program like this makes sense,” Scroggs said. “A caring and engaged campus is a safe campus.”
RESPOND builds upon Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), a training program developed in Australia and used at Mizzou since 2011. Although effective, MHFA was a didactic program designed to aid the general population, Hutton said. RESPOND, by contrast, focuses on the mental health issues of college students and highlights the resources available for them on campus.
“We shared a lot of information in Mental Health First Aid,” Hutton said. “What we’re trying to do with RESPOND is teach you what to do with that information.”
RESPOND is an acronym for: Recognize signs, Empathize, Share your concerns, Pose open questions, Offer hope, Navigate resources and policies, and Do self-care. During the eight-hour training, participants learn to recognize signs and symptoms of mental health problems, watch videos that depict possible scenarios, and role-play what to do when they see someone in need.
Marvin Feldman, a clinical assistant professor and clinical coordinator of nuclear medicine technology in the School of Health Professions, has participated in both the MHFA and RESPOND trainings. RESPOND focuses on the issues his students face every day, he said in an interview, from the pressure of school and the stress of work to the prevalence of alcohol abuse and depression.
“So much of us are programmed to ignore and to not get involved, so assessment is the first tool [learned in RESPOND] to know when you’re seeing something,” Feldman said. “The second part of the training is what to do and who to call and to be aware of the resources available.
“One day of training isn’t making a psychologist out of a nuclear medicine professor, but I do have a much better feeling for the resources available on campus,” Feldman said.
On April 7, 2014, University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe issued Executive Order 40, which makes every employee on the four campuses a mandatory reporter of sexual misconduct unless protected by a legal obligation of confidentiality. If a conversation about mental distress includes the student alleging a sexual assault, mandatory reporters must notify the campus’s Title IX coordinator.
Hutton said employees who begin a sensitive conversation with a student should disclose their mandatory reporter status because the student might want confidentiality. Counselors at the Counseling Center are exempted from mandatory reporting.
“The key is that you don’t have to fix [the student’s distress yourself],” Hutton said. “If you notice that the signs are there and you ask the appropriate questions, all you have to do is get the student to the Counseling Center.”
Faculty and staff can register for a session online at respond.missouri.edu. Below are upcoming session dates:
- Friday, Dec. 19, 2014
- Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015
- Monday, May 18, 2015
- Wednesday, June 3, 2015
- Tuesday, July 28, 2015
— Kelsey Allen