Preventing student suicide

Preventing student suicide

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Three-year grant to increase awareness, train campus and community partners to help

The University of Iowa community suffers an average of two to three student suicides annually, says Sam Cochran, University Counseling Service director.

Portrait of Sam Cochran
Sam Cochran

A new three-year grant project Cochran leads will bring the campus and local community together to prevent future student suicides.

The $270,970 grant titled “Leveraging Campus-Community Collaborations to Enhance Suicide Prevention at the University of Iowa,” comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Cochran’s staff of counselors sees approximately 2,000 students each year, which equals between six and seven percent of the student body, Cochran says. But there are more students who need help.

“About one in five students might have a diagnosable mental disorder,” Cochran says. “Young people may not realize they are in the throes of a clinical depression.”

The grant, administered through the UI College of Education where Cochran is also a clinical professor of counseling psychology, aims to reinforce existing support networks and inform campus and community members about how to recognize and approach students who are struggling.

Grant initiatives include deploying a new online training platform called Kognito At-Risk that provides an interactive way to learn about identifying and approaching struggling students. Students and faculty should watch their email inboxes for invitations to try the training, which they can do from their home computer and should take about 30 to 45 minutes to complete.

More in-depth training options will also exist thanks to the grant.

Faculty, staff, and students have an opportunity to participate in Mental Health First Aid training. The training, which lasts a total of 12 hours, will be offered monthly.

Students can complete a six-week training program to join the new Student Support Network.

“This is a peer-helper-volunteer program for students where they can learn how to talk with a peer or a friend and make referrals,” Cochran says.

The grant will enhance resources available for students.

Cochran’s team is developing culturally sensitive printed suicide prevention materials aimed at critical student populations, such as international, LGBT, and veteran students.

“These brochures are designed to give them something they can identify with a little more personally,” Cochran says.

Thanks to the grant, the Crisis Center of Johnson County is expanding its popular Crisis Chat program that allows community members to talk with trained counselors via an online chat system. The grant will augment the program with world language counselors. Currently, 15 Mandarin-speaking chat counselors are in training to help. Cochran says there will be a new language added each year of the grant term, which ends in 2015.

The grant also will promote the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK, as well as bring to campus a national suicide awareness and prevention exhibit called “Send Silence Packing.”

The “Send Silence Packing” exhibit will be organized by a student group called Active Minds. Other campus and community partners in the grant include Faculty and Staff Services, Crisis Center of Johnson County, Center for Disabilities and Development, Office of International Students and Scholars, Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, UI Cultural Houses and Resources Centers, UI-NAMI, UI Housing and Dining, Student Disability Services, UI Veterans Center, College of Public Health, Carver College of Medicine, Women’s Resource and Action Center, and the Rape Victim Advocacy Project.

Cochran says the grant will help create what public health professionals call “herd immunity” to suicide.

“You immunize the whole community from this negative outcome called suicide by making sure all people are educated about what resources are out there and what to look for,” Cochran says. “We create a culture where we value reaching out to people. This can save lives.”

To learn more about University Counseling Service, visit


Sam Cochran, University Counseling Service , 319-335-7294


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