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Suicide threats, depression rise among students

April 17, 2008

Depression among UW-River Falls students is on the rise, but there are several campus services that can help students deal with the college stress.

From the spring 2006 semester to the fall semester, suicide threats among UWRF students rose from two threats to eleven, according to Public Safety records.

“From what I’ve been told there is a greater number of threats or people at risk,” Richard Trende, director of Public Safety, said. “It’s concerning.”

Alice Reilly-Myklebust, director of Student Health and Counseling, said that they have noticed an influx of depressed students lately as well.

“It does seem like students are coming to us with more mental health concerns,” Reilly-Myklebust said.

There are different theories on the cause of the change in behavior among students. One theory is that students are more aware of other students’ behavior because of the rise of violence on college campuses such as Virginia Tech.

“People are identifying behavioral patterns that might be outside of the realm of what we consider safe and OK,” Trende said.

Another theory is that stress among students is increasing and human interaction is decreasing due to technology.

“I think when we become so technologically astute we don’t get that human contact,” Nanette Jordahl, assistant vice chancellor, said. “When you don’t have face to face contact it can lead to more isolation.”

There are services on campus that can help students deal with depression and anxiety. Appointments can be made with the counselors at Health and Counseling Services. There are currently two full-time counselors and two part-time temporary counselors.

On average, students have about three sessions with the therapist, according to Reilly-Myklebust.

“If students want long term psychotherapy we usually refer them off campus. We don’t have enough staff to perform long- term psychotherapy,” Reilly-Myklebust said.

Health and Counseling Services is in the process of getting approval for funding for another full-time counselor. A task force headed by the Governor Jim Doyle recommends that universities have one counselor for every 1,500 students.

“We have 6,400 students, so we really should have four full-time counselors, but we have two,” Reilly-Myklebust said.

This semester the Student Senate approved funds to hire another counselor using student segregated fees.

“With the atmosphere of campuses nationwide, this should be done now,” said Student Senate President Derek Brandt. “It was put on high priority.”

The River Falls Medical Clinic has also hired a psychologist to its staff.  Currently, sessions with the psychologist are not covered under student health insurance, but it is being looked into, Reilly-Myklebust said.

“If students need to see a psychologist they could have an assessment session with him,” Reilly-Myklebust said.

UWRF has also developed a Behavioral Intervention Team that helps individuals who may be depressed or suicidal. The team looks at the student behaviors and determines if they could be destructive to themselves or others.

“If there is some person that has problems or is at risk, we can jointly come to a conclusion on how to address it,” Trende said. “A lot of it is to get the person the assistance they need.”

If you think a student is an imminent threat to himself or others, call public safety, Trende said.  He says that all suicide threats should be taken seriously.

“The worst case is you could be wrong, but I’d rather be wrong 1,000 times than be really wrong by not reporting it and having something terrible happen,” Trende said.