Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

The Impact of Gatekeeper Training for Suicide Prevention on University Resident Assistants

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

The Impact of Gatekeeper Training for Suicide Prevention on University Resident Assistants

Article excerpt

Suicide is a significant problem in the college population (Kisch, Leino, & Silverman, 2005; Westefeld et al., 2006). It is the second leading cause of death among the U.S. college-age population (National Mental Health Association & the Jed Foundation, 2002), and it is estimated that there are 100 to 200 suicide attempts for every suicide completion (American Association of Suicidology, 2004). The National College Health Assessment conducted in Spring 2008 (N = 80,121) illustrated widespread suicide risk factors in the U.S. college population (American College Health Association [ACHA], 2009). Depression was the fourth ranked health problem during the past school year as self-reported by respondents. Furthermore, 36.7% reported feeling frequently overwhelmed, about 62% reported feeling hopeless, and 43% reported feeling so depressed at times that it was difficult to function (ACHA, 2009). It is clear that anxiety, depression, and other risk factors for suicide are present in current college students. More specific to suicide, 1.3% of participants reported that they had attempted suicide at least once during the past school year, and 9.0% of participants reported that they had seriously considered suicide (ACHA, 2009). Clearly, suicide prevention for college students is important.

Unfortunately, a service gap exists between the students who could benefit from counseling and those who seek it (Kadison & DiGeronimo, 2004; Kisch et al., 2005). On average, 10.4% of the students at campuses with counseling centers use the counseling center (Gallagher, 2009). According to Kisch et al. (2005), 80% to 90% of college students who die by suicide did not seek services at their college counseling center.

Gatekeeper training has been identified as a key strategy in suicide prevention in youth (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1992; Chagnon, Houle, Marcoux, & Renaud, 2001; Gould & Kramer, 2001). The resident assistants (RAs) who live and work within the residence halls on college and university campuses are critical targets for gatekeeper training. However, little is known about best practices in training RAs (or other gatekeepers) to serve as a safety net for at-risk students. In the present study, we examined a brief suicide prevention curriculum provided to the RAs employed within a large university residential life system, to better understand their potential role as gatekeepers in campus suicide prevention.

Gatekeepers are naturally occurring helpers who come into contact with those who might be at risk and are in a position to observe warning signs and make referrals to help. In the college environment, RAs are one key group of gatekeepers (Taub & Servaty-Seib, 2011). RAs interact with students more than other student affairs professionals and are therefore in a position to intervene more directly in students' lives (Eichenfield, Graves, Haslund, & Slief, 1988; Schuh, Stage, & Westfall, 1991). RAs are seen as "natural helpers" (Lindsey, 1997, p. 231). Students' proximity to and familiarity with RAs can be especially helpful in crisis situations because students can readily seek them out for assistance (Blimling, 2003). Bailey and Grandpre (1997) identified two important RA roles as those of counselor and crisis manager. Acting as paraprofessionals, RAs can offer short-term remedial services, including crisis intervention, and refer students to mental health resources as necessary (Upcraft & Pilato, 1982). Also, given the number of students with whom a single RA interacts, the training of RAs to be more attuned to suicide-related issues is an efficient way to benefit a large number of students.

Although gatekeeper training is considered an evidence-based prevention strategy, research on the effectiveness of such training programs is limited (Gould & Kramer, 2001).

The purpose of gatekeeper training is to develop the knowledge, attitudes, and skills to identify students at risk; to determine the levels of risk; to manage the situations; and to make a referral when necessary. …

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