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USM Health and Counseling Services Wins Grant for New Suicide Prevention Program

Beginning this fall, USM Health and Counseling Services will be implementing a new suicide prevention program called USM CARES.

The University of Southern Maine has been awarded the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Grant for the USM CARES Suicide Prevention Program. This three-year grant is offered through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Psychologist and Clinical Director of USM Counseling Services Dr. Robert Small developed the program and wrote the grant proposal last year. Small’s program will receive $306,000 from SAMHSA and $344,033 of in-kind services from USM over the next three years. USM CARES will provide broad-based suicide prevention initiatives for all students on USM’s three campuses, with a special focus on three high-risk target groups; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) students; Veteran students; and Native American students.

USM CARES is made up of three main initiatives: building a Student Support Network through student training sessions; distress and suicide prevention training for faculty and staff; and development of web-based services in the form of an Interactive Screening Program (ISP). All three initiatives were developed around Small’s belief that suicide prevention is the responsibility of the community, not just the mental health practitioners. “This program is meant to influence at-risk students’ sense of belonging and engagement in the USM community,” says Dr. Small. “Involving students, faculty and staff in our efforts is key.”

Over the three-year duration of the grant, faculty and staff will be trained in 30 departmental meetings, and 130 faculty and staff will receive advanced training. The ISP will be offered to all USM students, and 150 students will be trained for the Student Support Program. 

SAMHSA was established in 1992. It strives to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities through a combination of competitive, formula, and block grant programs and data collection activities. The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act was signed into law in October 2004. It is the first federal suicide prevention program targeted toward youth. SAMHSA offered the grant for the first time in 2005. 

Today, suicide intervention programs and initiatives are becoming more and more prevalent as the rates of depression, anxiety and alcohol and drug abuse increase among student and youth populations. According to the 2009 surveillance report by the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Grant Project, suicide is the second leading cause of death in Maine for 15-34 year olds. In a 2009 national survey of college counseling centers, between 86-96 percent of counseling directors reported an increase in students with psychological problems over the past five years. “Many students are in extreme distress and it is a very serious problem,” says Dr. Small.

Dr. Small says he wants to be able to sustain USM CARES after the grant runs out in three years. “We want to use this time to build the program into what we do.” He says the hope is that this work will contribute to a healthier USM community and encourage more engagement among at-risk students and other students, faculty and staff.

Psychologist Micheline Hagan was recently hired as the coordinator of USM CARES.  Dr. Hagan, who has many years of experience working with the college age population, is very excited about the program.

“I think this program is a good thing for USM,” said Small.  “I truly believe it’s going to save some lives.”