Texas Tech becomes the first university or entity in Texas to implement the web-based program.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), it's estimated that 15 percent of students suffer from depression and other mental disorders that put them at risk for suicide. Of this group, at least 10 percent of those students each year report they've seriously considered suicide.
With these statistics, the local AFSP representatives and Texas Tech University's Student Counseling Center decided to implement an anonymous Interactive Screening Program (ISP), created by AFSP, becoming the first university or entity in Texas to establish the program.
“The ISP represents an important first step for those students who may have reservations about coming in for counseling services,” said Klint Hobbs, licensed psychologist in the Student Counseling Center. “The anonymous email dialogue with a therapist is intended to increase students' comfort with the counseling process. Students who engage in this dialogue should eventually be more willing to come to the counseling center for the face-to-face counseling they need.”
The ISP is a web-based platform students can utilize to get professional help by answering a brief, confidential stress and depression questionnaire. The questionnaire incorporates the PHQ-9, a 9-item standardized depression screening scale, to better understand how at-risk each student is with depression and suicide. The questionnaire also includes questions about suicidal ideation and attempts, problems related to depression such as anger and anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse and eating disorder symptoms.
The ISP contains 35 questions and takes less than 10 minutes to complete. To maintain full anonymity, students are identified only with a self-assigned user ID.
Mariah Williams, unit coordinator for Texas Tech's PEGASUS program and chairwoman for AFSP's Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk, came up with the idea to implement a program within the Lubbock area and Texas Tech after she noticed students needed resources throughout the year to encourage them to get help. After meeting with the Student Counseling Center's staff, they decided to work together in adding the ISP.
“Whenever I attended the first Out of the Darkness Walk, which was implemented by a Texas Tech mom in conjunction with AFSP, I found out she had lost her son to suicide a few weeks after he graduated from college,” she said. “Because of other obligations, I helped take over the walk that following fall. Once I started organizing the walk, I was meeting with moms and hearing their stories about how they had lost their kids to suicide.
“Just hearing their stories was heartbreaking, because they were asking, ‘was there something more my child could have received that would have prevented them from completing suicide,' and that compelled me to do something more than just host an annual event. It had to be something throughout the year.”
Due to the high volume of students reaching out to the Student Counseling Center for one-on-one sessions, the ISP allows students to communicate with licensed counselors at Texas Tech remotely before making an appointment in person and waiting to get the help they need. The students and counselors can have an anonymous, one-on-one dialogue through the program, so the student doesn't feel the pressure to release his or her identity but still receive the help he or she needs.
Sasha Soto, current president of Texas Tech's WRECK the Stigma student organization – a student-led organization missioned to “wreck” the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide – said the ISP will encourage students to get help from professionals instead of trying to fight suicide and depression on their own.
“The Interactive Screening Program is a really big step toward building a trusting relationship with mental health professionals and students,” she said. “Too often, students go untreated fearing they will fall victim to the stigma associated with mental illness. By maintaining an anonymous basis, students will be able to get the help they deserve free from shame and embarrassment.”
Williams said it usually takes years to get the ISP implemented due to the lack of funds and staff to run the program and service to students. She said Texas Tech is fortunate to already have the manpower to run the ISP and the funds from the AFSP Out of the Darkness Walk to support it.
“We hadn't used the funds from the walk because we were waiting for a great opportunity like this,” she said. “As the months progressed and as we were trying to figure out what we could do here locally, we all came to the consensus the ISP would be the best thing for us to implement. Because of the support we have and the funds from the walks in previous years, we can make this effective this fall, and it is a great honor to be the first in Texas and the first university in the state to implement the ISP.
“We're looking forward to lessening the statistics of depression and suicide among our student body here at Texas Tech.”
The ISP is undergoing its final touches before being released and open to all students later this fall.
Currently, students can reach out to the Counseling Center for individual and couples counseling, find resources for veterans, self-help, parents and family and campus outreach and education programs. The center also offers the MindSpa for students, faculty and staff, where they can unwind and relax with massage chairs, meditate, play computer or Xbox 360 games or do yoga.