Suicide Prevention: Protecting USU's Community

Throughout the pandemic, the university has maintained a wide range of wellness and support services for both students and employees. USU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers a full schedule of appointments through telehealth, and when students reach out, they answer a series of questions to help ensure they are prioritized for an appointment. Students in crisis are seen within 24 hours, and others get a consultation scheduled within a week.

Since Jan. 1, the USU community has experienced the loss of several students, in apparent suicides.

“When a suicide takes place, USU responds by connecting affected students and employees with resources to help them heal,” said Eri Bentley, associate director of CAPS. “Other communication to our USU community is often targeted in order to protect the privacy of the student and their family, as well as to ensure we do not cause more harm than help.”

For those students who find themselves in crisis late at night or on a weekend, or who want to speak to someone anonymously about themselves or another person, the SafeUT app provides 24/7 phone and text support.

Proactive Approach to Prevention

USU is also focusing on a proactive, research-based campus-wide approach to mental wellness promotion and suicide prevention. A big step in advancing these efforts came in January 2020, when the university joined a program created by The Jed Foundation (JED), a nonprofit that focuses on protecting emotional health and preventing suicide for teens and young adults. As part of this effort, USU students were asked to complete the Healthy Minds study in spring 2020.

“We spoke with the director of JED Campus and other institutions that have participated in the program, and really liked their comprehensive and collaborative approach that goes beyond therapy services at the counseling center,” said Bentley.

Bentley explained that suicide is a complex issue, and it makes sense for the prevention strategy to also be multifaceted and incorporate many units across campus. The JED Campus program provides both a framework to review USU’s existing programs and expert guidance to develop a strategic plan based on best practices.

The university’s Mental Health and Wellness Steering Committee, which includes employees from CAPS, Office of VP for Student Affairs, Disability Resource Center, Residence Life, Office of Global Engagement, Department of Psychology, Department of Social Work, Sociology and Anthropology, USU Extension, Statewide Campuses and Human Resources, has worked with dozens of employees from other offices to assess existing programs on all three of USU’s residential campuses. They look forward to a site visit from JED Campus in March to kick off strategic planning.

“Truly, all offices will play some part of the prevention plan,” Bentley said.

Learning and Teaching How to Help

Already, the university has been using JED’s guidance to expand CAPS workshops on life skills development, one of the pillars in a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention, as well as a new training called “USU HELPS: Helping Everyone Learn to Prevent Suicide.” The training is intended for any members of USU community who want to help prevent suicide and assist students in distress, and can be requested by student groups, faculty and staff. More details are available at

Student Wellness also offers a range of mental health resources that students can explore for themselves, as well as guides on how to identify and assist students who may be in distress.

Bentley, along with Student Affairs case manager Morgan Walton, recently recorded an episode of the Aggie Parent & Family Podcast on “How to Recognize and Reach Out to Someone at Risk of Suicide.” In it, Bentley noted that suicide “is not just a personal issue, it’s a public health issue.” And as such, everyone has the ability to make a positive impact.

“At USU, we’re a caring community, and that’s a strength for us,” Bentley said. “We can empower ourselves by learning how to recognize signs of distress and how to start conversations about mental health. It’s important that we take it seriously when someone talks about suicide, ask direct questions, and encourage them to connect to professional help.”

Suicide Prevention and Wellness Resources

There is always mental health support when it is needed. Here’s how to connect, wherever you are, on any device:

Crisis Support

Resources for Students

Employee Support

  • Aggies Thrive– connect to resources and learn about workshops, including how to help a distressed employee.
  • Employee Assistance Program– up to six free counseling sessions, plus other support resources.
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