Maryland today | UMD Strengthens Suicide Prevention Efforts

As Suicide Prevention Month draws to a close this week, the University of Maryland continues to ramp up its long-term suicide prevention efforts.

This semester, the University Counseling Center begins rolling out TERPS (Training to Assess, Respond, and Prevent Suicide) for Terps, a three-hour training program designed to teach staff and faculty members how to identify students at risk of experiencing a mental health crisis. , talk to them about their concerns and refer them for more serious psychiatric advice or care if needed.

The initiative reinforces a “culture of care where every staff and faculty member is equipped with the tools they need to be able to respond to a distressed student in a compassionate, kind, which allows connection and validation to happen, and then allows them to connect the student to the right resources,” said Chetan Joshi, director of the counseling center.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research has shown that over the past 10 to 15 years, students have experienced an increased frequency and severity of mental health issues, which means more and more students nationwide are showing up in counseling centers with significant anxiety or major clinical depression, and with an increased incidence of suicidal thoughts. or behaviors. A lack of coping mechanisms, a sense of helplessness, or a sense of not belonging are some of the factors that can contribute to suicidal feelings.

“Suicide is really in the realm of their lives,” Joshi said.

TERPS for Terps, based on a similar program developed at Syracuse University, teaches staff and faculty members to spot signs that a student might have serious mental health issues: take note of behavioral changes , said staff at the counseling center. Is the student usually talkative and engaged during class, but now rather quiet or even absent? Is there a student worker in your office who usually discusses the new shows he airs with his colleagues, and now he answers every question with one-word answers? Don’t just ignore it.

Of course, conversations about mental health can be uncomfortable. The training helps staff and faculty members acquire the skills necessary to approach difficult encounters. Participants can be asked to pair up and communicate with each other only through drawings, quickly learning that clear and simple drawings are easier to understand than more complicated drawings. Likewise, a direct question – “Do you have suicidal thoughts?” – is easier to answer than a more verbal question.

Over the summer, the Counseling Center ran the program as a pilot project for the 290 resident assistants on campus. About 30 other staff and faculty have completed the training, after which participants have the option of signing up to learn how to run the program themselves. The training, which is in its first phase of implementation this academic year, is available upon request.

While suicidality is a focus, TERPS for Terps, which is supported by the Parents Philanthropy Board and the Terp Family Fund, is useful for a range of interpersonal interactions, said staff psychologist CJ Polihronakis.

“A lot of the interventions and skills that people learn in this specific program actually translate into other mental health issues or general crises that might arise, like panic attacks or someone who has just homesick,” he said.