Learning to See Signs of Distress

Suicide Prevention Training Prepares Faculty, Staff to Help Students in Need

Faculty and staff may be some of the best people on campus to identify students who are struggling or considering suicide. But often they may not know what to look for or how to help.

For anyone with student interactions on campus, one option for becoming well-versed in suicide prevention is through specialized training offered by the Counseling Center.

Lacy Currie, licensed psychologist and coordinator of suicide prevention and crisis response, provides Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) Gatekeeper Training on an individual or group basis to any students, faculty, or staff who are interested. 

“This is the most widely used gatekeeper training across college campuses,” Currie said. “It teaches individuals how to recognize the warning signs of suicide, talk to someone who is at risk, and refer them to get help.” 

Some general signs to look for that a student may be distressed include uncharacteristically poor preparation or performance in class, excessive absences, disruptive behavior, changes in physical appearance or hygiene, irritability, withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, and talking about death or dying. 

For those who are concerned about a student, Currie recommends taking the time to have a one-on-one conversation as a first step.

“One of the most important things we can do to help those who are in distress or at risk for suicide is to take the time to talk with them, provide a listening ear, and refer them to get help,” she said. “Check in with the student, express your concern, and listen to what is going on.” 

In providing training about suicide prevention, Currie also aims to dispel myths — one being that talking with someone about suicide will put the thought in his or her head.

“I want students, faculty, and staff to know that this is not true,” she said. “Talking with someone about suicide opens up communication, lowers anxiety, and is almost always met with relief.” 

Faculty or staff members who are uncomfortable having this kind of conversation, or are unsure if it is appropriate, are encouraged to contact the Counseling Center by phone or consult with a counselor in person before taking action. The Counseling Center is located on the second floor of the Student Services (Flag) Building.

The Office of the Dean of Students also provides an online referral form for those who are concerned about a student. The Office of the Dean of Students follows up on every referral submitted. In cases where a student needs immediate attention, a staff member can walk the student to the Counseling Center in the same building. 

Perhaps most important is that action is taken when faculty or staff encounter a student who may need assistance. 

“An important part of this discussion is talking to the student about the resources available and creating a plan of action for the student to seek help as needed,” Currie said.

The Counseling Center offers numerous options to meet student needs, including individual counseling, group psychotherapy, couples counseling, career counseling, assessments for learning disorders and ADHD, follow-up consultations, crisis response, and a series of life skills workshops to address common student concerns. 

The Counseling Center offers other more generalized training outside of the QPR Gatekeeper curriculum, as well as a 5-minute video on its website for faculty and staff about identifying students at risk. They also take requests for workshops from campus groups.

Mental health has been top of mind for Tech students recently, with a student-organized vigil and town hall that took place Feb. 17. 

President G.P. “Bud” Peterson convened a Mental Health Task Force in May 2013 that delivered recommendations in October of that year. Many of those recommendations have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented, including the creation of a Center for Community Health and Wellbeing that will come to fruition later this year.

For More Information Contact

Kristen Bailey
Institute Communications