Veteran suicide outreach program hopes to expand, promote prevention through education

September 26, 2016

Hannah Harvey

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     Through education and promotion, the Office of Veteran and Military Student Affairs hopes to expand their suicide outreach program and keep track of how many students use this as a resource.

     OVMSA will continue their partnership with the Wellness Center to offer student veterans the veteran suicide outreach program, a campaign that started in September.

     The program seeks to educate students about prevention and symptoms associated with suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder.

     Veterans can attend psychotherapy, couples and family therapy, group therapy, military gateway guides, workshops, presentations, consultations or assessments in the Wellness Center.

Student veterans receive six free sessions from the Wellness Center, as costs will be covered by the OVMSA.

     According to Benek Altayli, director of Mental Health Services, it’s important to provide prevention and treatment at the same time.

     Prevention strategies include educating students on what the symptoms of PTSD are. PTSD is a condition when an individual feels mental and emotional stress resulting from an injury or psychological shock.

     Symptoms include suicidal thoughts, withdrawal from daily activities, feeling exhausted, nightmares and turning to alcohol and drugs.

     Those who suffer from PTSD are triggered by certain aspects of their environment and, as a result, do everything in their power to avoid reliving their traumatic experience, said Altayli.

     “Suicide is a symptom of hopelessness; telling (a suicidal person) what to hope for drops the risk,” said Altayli.

     A recent social media trend shows people completing 22 pushups to represent the 22 veterans who commit suicide on a daily basis, but this figure is incorrect, according to Philip Morris, program director of the OVMSA.

     The figure has decreased since it was first published in a Veteran Affairs study in 2013. This study was associated with veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is more representative of older veterans who committed suicide, said Morris.

     In 2014, the average number of veteran suicides was 20 each day, according to a VA study.

     Many factors are involved in whether or not a veteran commits suicide. One of these is a veteran’s financial state.

     “Post 9/11 veterans are financially better off in terms of those who are recovering,” said Morris.

     Problems with the VA also can impact the type of treatment that veterans receive. Accommodations, including mental health services, are sometimes unavailable for those who served.

     Often times, the VA only provides medication because there is a lack of counselor availability.

     But the main problem with prevention may also lie with veterans disclosing their problems, said Morris.

     Within the office, various programs are coming together to make up the suicide outreach program itself and provide education on prevention strategies to help veterans.

     PAVE is a peer advising program for veterans. The office has trained and hired 10 students to recognize signs of distress. According to Morris, these advisers are not psychologically trained, but they are able to look out for students in order to assess what they can help them with.

     Advisers and students are matched by major and gender. This provides a good commonality to discuss academic affairs, said Morris. If a student is in distress, an advisor can report the symptoms to an expert for further assistance.

     “It was more important to focus on their academics rather than their branch of service, so that their adviser could tell them what to look for in their classes,” said Morris.

     Veterans Guides, another advising program, is also a part of the outreach program. An adviser with a master’s degree in counselor education is involved in Veterans Guides, as opposed to a student, since more high-risk students are placed in this group, said Morris.

     These two programs have not officially been established, but Morris hopes to implement it next spring after they find the funds to do so.

     Data tracking for how many student veterans are using these services began two weeks ago. The figures are insignificant as of now, but they are expected to rise significantly in the spring, said Altayli.

     “We expect numbers to be significant as announcements repeat and referrals to be given, so we can start catching veterans who struggle,” said Altayli.

     Working as a community is important to offer support and prevention, added Altayli.

     More information about the outreach program can be found by contacting the OVMSA at 255-3253, or the Wellness Center at 255-4444.