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Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and rates have drastically increased across the country in the last 20 years.
Rates are even worse for Latino and all rural residents.
From 2001-2015, rural areas have consistently had higher rates of suicide than metropolitan areas.
“While we’ve seen many causes of death come down in recent years, suicide rates have increased more than 20 percent from 2001 to 2015. And this is especially concerning in rural areas,” said CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D.
“We need proven prevention efforts to help stop these deaths and the terrible pain and loss they cause.”
Students at West Virginia University and the University of South Dakota recognized the problem and wanted to be proactive.
Students Making A Difference: West Virginia University
A student researcher at West Virginia University experienced mental health issues and saw firsthand how they go unaddressed in a rural area.
Her research is aimed at changing that.
“Rates of suicide continue to climb, and this has become a factor in the first-time decline in the average life expectancy of Americans,” Karissa Bjorkgren, second-year student in West Virginia University’s master of social work and master of public administration, told The Morgantown News.
“This research allows us to change the outlook of mental health and the integrated services provided throughout our state and help us move in a positive direction, both as a research university and as a community.”
Bjorkgren partnered with WVU Professor and Master of Social Work Program Director Mary LeCloux for this project.
The research project is focused on feasibility and effectiveness of a universal suicide risk screening tool. The tool will be used in two primary care practices in West Virginia.
The Ask Suicide Screening Questions Toolkit was developed by National Institutes of Health Clinical psychologist Lisa Horowitz and her team, and includes a brief suicide risk screening tool and a follow-up guide for risk assessment.
“Our hope is that by implementing a universal screening tool within a standard physician office visit, we can increase the rates of suicide reporting within individuals residing in rural areas,” Bjorkgren told The Morgantown News.
Former Students Making A Difference: University of South Dakota
At the University of South Dakota, a rural campus, an organization seeks to shed light on mental health issues.
The Lost & Found Association originally provided outreach and help to link students with resources. Now, the organization raises funds to cover expenses for college students who are needing medication and/or counseling.
“The game has changed. More than 40,000 people die by suicide every year,” Erik Muckey, a USD former student who helped in founding the organization and is now the executive director, told The Brunswick News.
“Suicides are the most prevalent they have been in the last 30 to 40 years. There are more suicides, and there is also better reporting of it.”
The Lost & Found Chapter at USD keeps their focus in three main areas: student engagement, campus counseling center support and resources, and training and advocacy. The group brings together student leaders, counseling centers, and campus and community partners.
Additionally, they conduct research to improve mental health, thus leading to local solutions and the prevention of suicide.
“Our mission is to build resilient people and communities with compassion, inclusion and understanding,” Muckey said.