IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) — By the first week of March, counseling services at the University of Iowa already saw more students this school year than the entire previous school year.
“In the last four years, we have almost doubled the size of this agency, and it’s still not enough,” University Counseling Service Director, Barry Schreier, said.
Soon, a suicide prevention course will be required for all first-year and transfer students at Iowa, as students look to expand their mental health services.
This week, student government voted to add the course, while also taking steps to add more employees to the counseling department.
Like too many, University of Iowa student Amber Crow knows the heartache of suicide.
“When I was in high school, one of my friends died by suicide. So it was something that has impacted me,” she said.
Now, a senior at the university, Crow said that impact followed her like a dark cloud. In her time on campus, she’s advocated for mental health awareness and support.
Crow serves on the student government’s Health and Safety Committee as co-chair, where she sponsored two legislative bills to expand services on campus. The first was to add the suicide prevention course.
“It’s very much so an avatar that goes through and has those real-life conversations. It helps you practice what to say, what not to say, and what resources exist on our campus,” Crow said.
Schreier said the course will teach students how to recognize, question and talk about suicide.
“It’s not only for me to be watching out for you but it’s also training for me to watch out for me,” he said.
According to Schreier, 60 percent of students that will act on suicide, talk to a friend about it first. He said 15 percent of them that attempt it will have talked to a school counselor.
“That’s why it’s important to train our first-line of responders, which is my roommate, my friends, staff, faculty, advisors and RAs,” he said. “This training will allow us to distribute common messaging and encouragement to engage in suicide prevention.”
Schreier also said that, with the students that leave the university early, the number one reason they hear is mental health.
“I hope that students are able to seek help. I hope the reasons why we’re not retaining students become other reasons because it’s heartbreaking. And I hope we normalize the conversation because, again, this is so much bigger than the University of Iowa,” Crow said.
The second bill Crow sponsored, that was voted on and passed, was an increase to the annual mental health fee for students by $2 per semester. Pending the approval by the Iowa Board of Regents, it would raise the annual fee from $12.50 to $16.50.
That increase will go to help counseling services hire the university’s second caseworker for the campus and another staffer who can focus on suicide prevention. The caseworker will also work with the Dean of Students to help students having a crisis.
Student government committed $5,000 to cover the fees for introducing the course.
The pilot version of this new course will start in the fall before going campus-wide in the spring of 2020.