Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those aged 15-34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With more than 1,100 of the nation’s college students taking their lives each year, effective campus suicide prevention programs are more critical than ever before. A newly awarded federal grant expands Montclair State University’s leadership role in preventing violence and suicide on New Jersey’s college and university campuses, while supporting its ongoing commitment to destigmatizing mental health issues.
Montclair State Counseling and Psychological Services staff psychologist and suicide prevention coordinator Jude Uy has received $102,000 of funding for the first year of a three-year Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention grant. This year, the University is one of only 17 colleges and universities nationwide to receive the prestigious award.
Administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the award supports the University’s newly developed Project Suicide Awareness Violence Education and Response (Project SAVER) and supplements existing Counseling and Psychological Services initiatives. Equally noteworthy is Montclair State’s establishment of the first-ever formalized New Jersey campus suicide and violence prevention consortium, the University and College Alliance for Prevention of Suicide, or UCAPS. Network members will collaborate to decrease the incidence of suicides on state campuses by disseminating and sharing suicide prevention resources, information, policies and best practices.
“Our primary objective is to support the mental health of our campus by decreasing the prevalence of suicide and serious mental health issues and providing resources to the external community and other campuses throughout New Jersey,” says Uy. “I am hopeful that Project SAVER can help destigmatize and generally shift public attitudes about suicide, mental health and help-seeking. We want to continue to create and sustain a campus culture of tolerance and acceptance, while focusing on the safety and care of our community. The SAMHSA GLS grant will help us expand programs that further this commitment.”
“The University is very pleased to have this opportunity to supplement the suicide prevention programs that Dr. Uy has brought to the campus community,” says Montclair State Vice President for Student Development and Campus Life Karen L. Pennington. “The difficulties faced by many students too often culminate in feelings of hopelessness and despair. The ability to provide strong educational and support programs through the Counseling and Psychological Services Center will help our students learn to manage life’s challenges and provide the guidance and confidence they need for the future.”
Project SAVER’s holistic, community-centric approach includes developing “gatekeeper” training to help Montclair State faculty and staff recognize and respond to the signs and symptoms of mental health issues, as well as new online education and training offerings to help students combat stress, anxiety and depression. With grant support, Montclair State will also be able to bolster its counseling center clinicians’ skills in assessing and treating high-risk mental health problems, as well as expand current social media outreach efforts that link students to crisis support organizations.
“Part of the challenge is that mental illness – including suicide and depression – is accompanied by a tremendous amount of stigma,” explains Uy. “Shame from stigma prevents important conversations about mental illness from taking place and limits public awareness of difficult, yet important, issues. Grant funding – for initiatives like a campuswide public messaging campaign – will help us battle stigma on campus, as well as provide safety resources for both students and staff.”
The University is a frequent partner of organizations that support mental health and suicide prevention initiatives. “For example, Governor Codey and the Codey Fund for Mental Health, have supported our stigma-free campus initiative by providing permanent signage identifying Montclair State as a stigma-free campus,” Uy says. Uy currently serves as the president of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Northern New Jersey Chapter, which has supported mental health with various programs, including certifying six cohorts of faculty, staff and students in Mental Health First Aid since 2016.