Funds awarded for mental health program

The Miller School of Medicine has received a three-year, $295,653 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to launch a new program, UM Unites to Prevent College Suicide by Transforming Campus Culture.

The program seeks to increase awareness about the signs of suicidal behavior, the risk of suicide among students and the availability of resources to help treat these feelings.

Through training and education, the program hopes to increase suicide-prevention activities on campus.

Dr. Lourdes Illa, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, helped launch the program along with fellow professor Dr. Marisa Echenique.

“UM Unites seeks to promote openness about suicidal thoughts and decrease the stigma surrounding suicide,” Illa said. “We want students to feel open to seek help for themselves, but also to encourage others in seeking help.”

The program collaborates with the Student Counseling Center on the Coral Gables campus, as well as its suicide outreach program, LifegUards, to help curtail the risk of suicide among students.

The LifegUards program has been active since 2008, but these new funds will help bolster its current programs.

“Thanks to the grant we now have more money dedicated to investigating the threat of suicide, more staff to assist students as well as enhanced screening of students who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts,” staff coordinator Audrey Cleary said.

The new screening capabilities include an interactive online-screening program aimed at students who resist reaching out for help.  This new method has proven effective in reaching out to otherwise silent students.

“We want to build a bridge from telling someone about suicidal thoughts to getting treatment,” Cleary said.

Senior Sushanth Shyamsundar sees this as a key step toward improving students’ mental health.

“I’ve known several students who’ve told me they’re having suicidal thoughts, some of them close friends,” Shyamsundar said.  “At the time I didn’t know what to do for them, so I didn’t tell anyone.  It’s good to know that in the future we’ll have someone to talk to who’ll listen.”

If you or a fellow member of the UM community are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call the Student Counseling Center at 305-284-5511.