Published Monday Jul 9, 2018
College is an exciting time for students, but it can also be overwhelming. The Tennessee Tech Counseling Center’s Hope Strong Eagles program provides a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention and mental health promotion to help students navigate mental health struggles they may encounter.
Founded through a grant from the National Institute of Health and the Garret Lee Smith Memorial Campus Suicide Grant in September 2015, Tech’s Hope Strong Eagles program has trained more than 900 people in suicide prevention using the Question, Persuade and Refer curriculum; provided additional suicide prevention training to 2,200 individuals on campus; increased mental health education on Tech’s campus; established an afterhours crisis hotline to connect students with licensed counselors; and developed partnerships with more than 50 community organizations to help support students. These measures have allowed the center to reach 2,500 students each semester with prevention outreach.
“Several years ago, we saw an increase in the number of students seeking services for anxiety and depression. We saw these issues in advance and wanted to be ready to support our students,” said Christina Mick, assistant director of clinical services. “To do well, students have to have good mental health and wellness. With our response and this program, we have been a leader among campuses in Tennessee in prevention.”
In 2015, there was one Question, Persuade and Refer suicide prevention trainer at Tech offering evidence-based techniques for identifying those at risk and referring them to help. Since Hope Strong Eagles, that number has increased to four certified trainers in the Counseling Center and one in Residential Life, allowing more than 900 people to receive QPR training.
To reduce stigma and increase mental health education on campus, the center hosts informational tables in the Roaden University Center twice each week during the semester and has hosted a number of prevention and education events, including the popular Gaming for Prevention event which invited campus to participate in a video game tournament event highlighting suicide prevention education.
Every department on Tech’s campus has a prevention packet of information, and every faculty member now receives information on how to deal with a distressed student. Prevention education materials have also been placed in every residence hall and academic building on Tech’s campus.
In Spring 2018, Tech hosted the Send Suicide Packing program, which travels across the country with a display of backpacks representing the memory of students who have died by suicide.
“It was very powerful,” said Ashley Gilbert, a student worker in the Counseling Center. “The backpacks filled the gym at the Fit and everyone who came through was really struck by it.”
As the display left Tech’s campus and traveled to other universities, it took with it a backpack from Tennessee Tech as well.
Although a national crisis hotline has long existed and been accessible for students, Hope Strong Eagles allowed the center to enhance after-hours services with a hotline that is specifically for Tech students, connecting them with a campus counselor who can help them.
“Our students know that if they are in crisis, someone is going to be there for them,” Mick said. “And they know they can get to someone from our campus, someone who is going to follow up with them and make sure they are okay.”
The center has established a partnership with the Daniel Seal organization and 5K event for suicide prevention, and worked with the Veteran’s Association to get gun safety locks and prevention information to Tech’s student veteran population.
With the grant supporting Hope Strong Eagles set to end in September, Mick and the center’s staff are now looking to continue and sustain their progress.
“Our partnerships and our prevention efforts are really important to us,” Mick said. “With this we really have been able to grow our prevention program and make it stronger so more people can be reached to get help and make sure our students feel supported.”
And for the students, that support is what makes the Hope Strong Eagles.“Think about it as the puzzle pieces that make up a well student,” said Gilbert. “We look to this plan and offer them support. Even if it only helped one person, it is worth doing it.”
The Hope Strong Eagles grant program has allowed Tennessee Tech's Counseling Center to be a leader in campus suicide prevention efforts. Pictured, from left to right, are Patricia Smith, Counseling Center director; Christina Mick, assistant director and grant project director; Jamie Murdock, grant development specialist; Mary Williford and Francisis Otuonye, AVP for Research at Tech.