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Social Work Faculty Lead Campus-Based Student Suicide Prevention and Stigma Reduction Programs

Social work faculty at three CalSWEC schools—San Francisco State University, Sacramento State University, and California State University, Stanislaus—are leading the development and implementation of innovative programs to reduce the stigma of mental illnesses and prevent suicide.

The programs are the result of contracts that the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA) awarded in 2011 for the Student Mental Health Initiative to the California Department of Education, California Community Colleges, the California State University system, and the University of California system to develop and implement training, peer-to-peer support, and suicide prevention programs at all educational levels.

CalMHSA, a joint powers authority of counties formed in 2010, focuses on the efficient delivery of mental health projects and programs through funding, technical support, and evaluation. (Read more about the statewide programs they are funding.)

The programs at the three CalSWEC schools are described below:

School of Social Work Associate Professor Dina Redman administers the program and is the Student Mental Health Initiative program coordinator.

Students seeking SSP support do not need to prove that they have a psychiatric diagnosis or disability, but behavioral health issues have been identified among 85% of the students served. Students utilizing SSP have reported high rates of progress in meeting their goals. One striking outcome has been that, with sufficient support, students reporting behavioral health issues are equally successful in meeting their objectives as those not identifying such concerns. A key element for progress among all of the students served appears to be ongoing and intensive access to assistance.

  • Sacramento State University: The school entered into a contract with Sacramento County Behavioral Health Services in 2011. Division of Social Work Professor Sue Taylor and Student Health and Counseling Services Clinical Director Karen Durst are Co-Principal Investigators for Campus Connections, a prevention and early intervention program directed toward identifying and providing supports for distressed students; the goal ultimately is to reduce the risk of suicide. The program builds awareness and provides trainings for administration, faculty, staff, and students. Funds from the county contract and a new award from CalMHSA are being braided together to support a unique partnership between the campus's academic units and student services.  

Additionally, the contract has made it possible for the campus to be an eligible payback site for CalSWEC Mental Health Program stipend graduates, as well as a practicum site for MHP second-year students. An MHP graduate from San Jose State University School of Social Work, the first Graduate Fellow sponsored under the contract, has been hired by Student Health and Counseling Services since completing her payback year. Another graduate has provided voluntary payback hours in Campus Connections, and two MHP students have been interns. Dr. Taylor suggests, "This is the best of what WET and PEI were designed to do. Such collaboration allows for new practitioners trained in the MHSA vision of recovery, wellness, prevention, and early intervention to connect into communities of practice that might not otherwise be reached by this message." 

  • California State University, Stanislaus: The “Prevention. Empowerment. Education. Relief” (PEER) Project creates prevention and education-related activities to eliminate the stigma associated with mental health issues and to reduce the risk of student suicide. With a mission to empower students to recognize and support individuals who are at risk of mental health issues, the project aims to increase awareness, promote wellness and acceptance, and create a safe and healing environment.

The PEER Project is coordinated by campus Psychological Counseling Center Director Dr. Dan Berkow and MHP Project Coordinator Jennifer Johnson, lecturer in the MSW Program. In its first year of CalMHSA funding, the project is exploring the research around mental health and suicide prevention to identify and implement research-informed practices to serve CSU, Stanislaus students. PEER Project mentors provide support, advice, and encouragement with the goal of providing students, who might otherwise feel isolated, a sense of connection to the larger campus community. Support groups provide students an opportunity to join peers experiencing similar challenges and struggles in life and to assist in mutual problem solving.