Troubling posts on SayAnything raise alarm — (The Miscellany News)

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The Miscellany News – Vassar College Student Newspaper

QPR, Counselor on Call offer support in suicide prevention

By Ruth Bolster

Assistant Features Editor

Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Students and administrators alike have noticed a number of postings on SayAnything, an anonymous Vassar blog, detailing feelings of hopelessness and depression. The College has taken notice that some posts on the site may demonstrate warning signs for serious depression or suicide.

“There were a couple of things [written on SayAnything] that indicated that someone may be in trouble,” noted Dean of Students David “D.B.” Brown, “And that was worrisome because we really don’t have a way of knowing who is making these postings. But what it does do is heighten our awareness of taking care of each other.”

A poster on Oct. 12 wrote: “I am depressed. I’ve been in therapy for years, am on medication, have a really good network of support here, and yet I feel like I keep asking way too much of them … I could kill myself right now. Oh VC, you are such a beautiful place. You are full of life. I am struggling to keep up with you, to keep sane. I want to learn how to live.” The post, and others like it, have generated concern within the Vassar community; many commenters wrote to express similar feelings as well as to offer support and kind words for the original poster.

Said Brown, “What was encouraging…was the kind of response that that person was getting from other anonymous people­seek help, here’s who you can go to, we care about you. It sounds like people are trying to reach out, but it is tough, because you don’t know who you are reaching out to.”

The website is specifically geared toward members of the Vassar community; however, it remains a separate entity from the school. Because there is no direct affiliation, administrators have no control over the site, and therefore no way of knowing exactly who posts on the website. They also cannot legally formulate a policy to deal with suicidal statements. Only if someone makes a threat against the school online can the College respond by calling the police and administrators and locking down the campus. If a student makes suicidal comments to a friend or school employee, they are referred to the Vassar Counseling Service at Metcalf.

Although the posts are anonymous, Vassar nevertheless provides resources such as the Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) suicide prevention program to teach members of the community how to help others with suicidal thoughts.

“On our campus, it is important to encourage anyone who feels suicidal to meet with a counselor from the Vassar College Counselor Service so that they can receive professional care and/or support, even if that means walking the student over yourself,” wrote Dr. Christopher St. Germain, a counselor at Metcalf, in an emailed statement.

St. Germain directs the QPR program, which provides training to administrators, faculty, staff and students that is aimed at recognizing the warning signs of suicide. Furthermore, the QPR program equips participants with strategies to ask others about suicide while providing them with the resources to suggest in a time of crisis, such as the number of the Vassar 24-hour Counselor on Call.

The program itself centers upon three steps: questioning the individual, persuading them to get help and referring them to the proper resources. All faculty, staff and students are encouraged to participate in the QPR program, and it is a required part of house team training. Sessions are held once a semester and people can contact for information. The next QPR training, specifically geared toward staff, faculty and administrators, will be held on Dec. 16.

Though everyone who exhibits suicidal behavior is encouraged to seek help, with the advent of anonymous Internet forums such as SayAnything, it is often difficult to ensure that those who need help the most are in fact receiving it.

“Individuals having suicidal thoughts can present very differently from one another. There are several emotional and situational factors that may be at play. While there are some behavioral clues and situational clues that may alert us that a student may be encountering distress, the most effective way to find out if someone is thinking about suicide is by asking them,” wrote St. Germain.

Such behavioral clues include increased alcohol and drug use, unexplained irritability or anger; examples of situational clues may include failing several classes or experiencing a significant break up.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in 10 adults living in the United States reports suffering some form of depression. Since suicide is the second leading cause of death among U.S. college students, special attention must be paid to depression on college campuses. Depending on the number of symptoms displayed, those diagnosed with clinical depression are either described as suffering from major depression or “other” depression.

Specifically, those who are diagnosed with major depression generally report experiencing five of eight possible symptoms, which include but are not limited to feeling down, depressed or hopeless; having trouble falling asleep; and having little interest or pleasure in doing things. Those who meet the criteria for “other” depression typically display two to four of the symptoms of major depression in addition to feeling specifically either depressed or hopeless or having little pleasure in doing things.

Acording to the CDC’s 2008 survey detailing the number of adults who meet the criteria for depression, young adults aged 18 to 24 are most likely to report suffering from “other” depression.

Although not everyone who is depressed is suicidal, prolonged depression, in addition to a sudden change in behavior and statements revealing a desire to die, could be an indicator that someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Moreover, Vassar’s counselors and administrators take these warning signs seriously and encourage students to seek help.

Brown noted, “What it does do, for those who are in the administration, is sharpen our antenna, or ensure that we are reaching out to anyone who might be in trouble. Occasionally a person may say something that indicates who they are or where they are. Without infringing on their anonymity, we would notice that, and we could be more attentive in that way.”

There are options for concerned students who want to reach out to these anonymous posters.

“The best approach for anonymous settings in which people communicate the potential of self-harm is to make them aware of the safety net that Vassar College has created for them,” stated St. Germain. “If a student suggests that they are thinking about hurting themselves over a blog, providing them with essential resources may help to save their life.”

A few possible resources include: the Vassar College Counseling Service (845.437.5700); the 24-hour Counselor On Call, via the Campus Response Center (845.437.7333); and National Suicide Hotlines such as 1.800.273.TALK or 1.800.SUICIDE. Other possible people to speak with include house advisors and student fellows. However, students are encouraged to contact the counseling service first if they are having thoughts of self-harm.

“If you are feeling like you may harm or kill yourself, tell someone,” encouraged St. Germain, “If you want, tell a friend, or a student fellow, house advisor, roommate, band mate, parent, tutor, counselor. Let someone know. There is always someone who will listen.”