Atlanta Campus Set to Host Third Annual ‘Reach Out, Speak Out’ Suicide Prevention Initiative


ATLANTA – All seven schools and colleges on Mercer University's Cecil B. Day Graduate and Professional Campus in Atlanta are combining their efforts for the third consecutive year to encourage the community to “Reach Out, Speak Out” during National Suicide Prevention Week on Sept. 6-12.

Three days of events are scheduled to communicate the message that there is hope and there is help for those contemplating suicide, which is the second-leading cause of death among college students. 

“Our goal is twofold: to establish an environment for our campus community in which individuals are comfortable to reach out for help without being stigmatized, and to train our students and faculty as to how to get help for someone in crisis,” said Dr. Kathy Robinson, assistant professor of counseling in Mercer's Penfield College. “Suicide is not always predictable; however, research shows us most cases are preventable.”

Once again the primary focus of this year's initiative is suicide prevention training. Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) trainings for students, faculty and administrators will be offered throughout the week. QPR is the most widely taught, evidence-based gatekeeper training program in the United States, as more than one million people have been trained in classroom settings and online.

Dr. Robinson will conduct trainings for students in Wooten Auditorium on Sept. 8 at 12 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sally vander Straeten, suicide prevention coordinator for the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, will conduct trainings for faculty and administrators in Business and Education Academic Building Room 004 on Sept. 10 at 10 a.m. Reservations are required, as seating is limited for these sessions, and can be made by contacting Yiskah Tucker at (678) 547-6824 or

A “Lunch and Learn” program on Sept. 9, 12-1 p.m., will feature a talk, titled “Suicide Mythbusters: Knowing the Truth Could Save a Life,” by Sheri McGuinness, president and CEO of Suicide Prevention Action Network, Georgia (SPAN-GA). Lunch will be provided for the first 75 students.

Williams lost her husband of 23 years to suicide in 1999. Her loss and painful journey led her to join SPAN-GA, where she eventually took a leadership role as president and CEO in 2005. Since then, she has led SPAN-GA as it has delivered the voices of its grassroots constituents to legislators each year by holding the annual Suicide Prevention Awareness Day at the Capitol and supported survivors and the suicide prevention community by creating education and awareness statewide.  

She created Camp SOS, a family camp for survivors of a suicide loss, which is currently planning its fifth year. As a survivor services specialist, she developed and currently leads the Survivor of Suicide Support Project and maintains the Georgia Suicide Prevention Information Network Broadcast Network through the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Suicide Prevention Program.

Furthermore, information tables will be set up at nine locations around campus Monday through Thursday to provide suicide prevention materials from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as well as “Reach Out, Speak Out” wristbands, stickers and lifesavers. A prize patrol will reward students wearing the stickers during the week. 

Perimeter Pet Pals – a non-profit, volunteer-driven initiative aimed at promoting love, courage and empowerment to people in need through interaction with highly trained pets and their handlers – will present pet therapy techniques on the quad on Tuesday at 12 p.m. and Thursday at 3 p.m.

A candlelight vigil, hosted by McAfee School of Theology, will close out the week's events on Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. outside the Atlanta Administration and Conference Center.

Additionally, several schools colleges are hosting sessions for their students to address how suicide impacts their discipline specifically, and suicide prevention materials will be distributed at the University's Douglas County and Henry County Regional Academic Centers on World Suicide Prevention Day, Sept. 9.

“Reach Out, Speak Out” originated in Penfield College, which offers undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs to working adult learners on the Mercer's Macon and Atlanta campuses, Douglas County, Henry County and Newnan regional academic centers, and online. Begun in 2013, the initiative quickly expanded to include other areas of the University. For more information, visit