Mercer Encouraging Community to ‘Reach Out, Speak Out’ During National Suicide Prevention Week


ATLANTA – The collective voice of six different colleges on Mercer University's Atlanta campus is encouraging the community to “Reach Out, Speak Out” during National Suicide Prevention Week on Sept. 8-14.

Four days of events are scheduled to communicate the message that suicide, which is the second-leading cause of death among college students, is preventable.

“I am really pleased that the Atlanta campus has come together to learn more about suicide prevention,” said Dr. Richard Swindle, senior vice president for the Atlanta campus. “Throughout the country, mental health issues are becoming more and more prevalent on college and university campuses. This is an effort to make sure that our campus community is well educated about how to assess those who may be moving toward a decision about taking their life.”

The effort was initiated by the College of Continuing and Professional Studies, led by Dean Priscilla Danheiser; Dr. Art Williams, department chair and associate professor of counseling and human sciences; and Dr. Kathy Robinson, assistant professor of counseling. Dr. Robinson initially met with several students representing Chi Sigma Iota, an international honor society for counselors, as well as the Student Affiliate Organization and Active Minds, two student groups related to counseling and mental health.

“We, as counseling students, wanted to be able to have a safe environment to come together and to recognize the signs and symptoms of suicidal ideations,” said Caryn Haire, a master's degree student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program and president of Chi Sigma Iota.

A prevention committee was formed, beginning with zero funding, and is expected to receive as much as $5,000 in sponsorship money and gifts-in-kind. As a result, four Apple ® iPad Minis will be given away, lunch will be provided on three days, and bracelets, pins and water bottles will be handed out.

The committee has rallied the support of the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing, the College of Pharmacy, the James and Carolyn McAfee School of Theology, the Tift College of Education and the College of Health Professions, as well as the Student Affairs Division. Corporate sponsors for “Reach Out Speak Out” include the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Andrew Welsh Photography, Atlanta Bread Company – Smyrna, Barnes and Noble – Perimeter Mall, CAREing Paws, Carlyle's Catering, Chick-fil-A – Northlake, The Georgia Compassion Project, Helmet Salon – Atlanta, Home Grown Restaurant – Atlanta, Krispy Kreme – Marietta, Kroger – Brookhaven, Peachford Hospital – Atlanta, PeachMac – Athens, Starbucks – Northlake, and Conyers and Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Mercer Atlanta Admissions and Marketing, the University Bookstore and Auxiliary Services are also sponsors. Additionally, between 200 and 250 student volunteers are expected to participate over the four days.

“I am grateful to Dr. Robinson for leading this initiative to address an issue that challenges college students of all ages,” said Dean Danheiser. “I would also like to thank Dean (Linda) Streit, Dean (Hewitt William) Matthews, Dean (R. Alan) Culpepper, Dean (Paige) Tompkins, Dean (Lisa) Lundquist and Dean (Claire) Dyes for their contributions and enthusiasm toward this initiative.”

James W. Bartling, associate dean for student affairs and admissions and assistant professor of pharmacy practice, Richard Stilley, assistant dean for campus life, Harriet Fulton, director of counseling services, and Terry Menard, graphic design production specialist, have also been instrumental in planning the week's events.

The goal is threefold: first, to increase awareness of suicide prevention on campus; second, to create a safe environment for students to speak out, find their voice and ask for help; and third, to build resilience in students against suicide.

Daily information sessions will be held from 12:15-1 p.m. in the Trustees Dining Room. The sessions will address “Suicide Prevention on College Campuses” with Dr. Carol Koplan of Emory University (Monday, Sept. 9); “Alcohol, Drugs, Stress and Suicide: How to Help” with Lisa Cottrell of Well Being Psychotherapy (Tuesday, Sept. 10); “Eating Disorders and Suicidality” with Dr. Anglea Schaffner of the Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders (Wednesday, Sept. 11); and “Depression, Anxiety and Suicide Prevention” with Stuart Smith of The Link Counseling Center (Thursday, Sept. 12). Lunch will be provided on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Attendees are invited to bring a sack lunch on Thursday. Seating is limited for these sessions.

During each of the four sessions, a drawing will be held for an Apple® iPad Mini 16GB Wifi to be given to a Mercer student in attendance.

Also, Monday through Thursday, tables will be set up at 11 different locations across campus to provide informational and promotional materials, including “Reach Out, Speak Out” pins to be worn that week. The Prevention Prize Patrol will reward some of those seen wearing the pins on campus.

A suicide prevention training session on Thursday, Sept. 12, will feature Dr. Mary Bartlett, a renowned licensed professional counselor who serves as an independent behavioral health consultant on resilience, risk reduction and suicide prevention. The training is titled “A Community-Building Approach for Assessing and Responding to Suicide” and will last from 5-7 p.m. in the Atlanta Administration and Conference Center (AACC) auditorium. Seating is limited. Following the training is a candlelight vigil at 7:30 p.m. on the second floor of the AACC.

CAREing Paws Inc., an organization that trains therapy animals to work with those in hospitals, assisted living facilities, schools and those with mental health issues, will visit on Monday, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., outside the Sheffield Student Center, and will give a presentation on Wednesday, from 3:30-5 p.m., in the AACC.

A reflection wall will be set up for students to artistically express their thoughts about family and friends who struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts or mental health conditions on Monday, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., outside the Sheffield Student Center, and Wednesday, from 3:30-5 p.m. in the AACC.

“One of our goals is to be a signature program on the Atlanta campus. This is one step toward that, because we're helping put into practice what our students are learning in class,” said Dr. Williams.

“I have yet to see something like this being done at other universities,” said Sanaz Rezaei, a doctoral student in the Counselor Education and Supervision Program. “We would like to thank, on behalf of the student body, Dr. Robinson, Dr. Williams, Dean Danheiser and others who have helped give us this opportunity. Without them, this would not be possible.”

About Mercer University

Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University enrolls more than 8,300 students in 12 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing, health professions, and continuing and professional studies – on campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah – and four regional academic centers across the state. The Mercer Health Sciences Center, launched July 1, 2012, includes the University's medical, nursing, health sciences and pharmacy schools. Mercer is affiliated with four teaching hospitals – Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, and The Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus. The University also has educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. It operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins. Mercer is the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program.

Kyle is senior director of media relations at Mercer. In addition to being the primary media contact for most academic and administrative units of the university, he serves as editor of the Mercerian alumni magazine and News@Mercer e-newsletters, and he coordinates hometown and university news releases.