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Researcher says rural suicides need attention

“I feel like we have some unique things going on in a rural area that should be addressed,” —Jameson Hirsch, professor

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn.

An East Tennessee State University researcher said suicides in rural areas need special attention.

Assistant psychology professor Jameson Hirsch told the Kingsport Times- News that research suggests “social and cultural beliefs, isolation, economic stress, and the acceptance of firearms are contributing factors” in rural suicides.

Hirsch, in a grant application tailored to a rural campus, has received government funding to develop a suicide prevention program for ETSU’s 14,000 students.

Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities records show that suicide is the third-leading cause of death among youth and young adults ages 10 to 24 in both the state and nation. Tennessee’s suicide rate is 13th nationally — 14.4 per 100,000 people — compared to the national average of 10.8 per 100,000 people.

“I feel like we have some unique things going on in a rural area that should be addressed,” Hirsch told the newspaper.

The three-year, $593,000 program will target vulnerable and at-risk populations on campus, including firstgeneration students and f irst-t ime freshmen, veterans, minority and intern ational student s, members of fraternities and sororities and gay-lesbian-bisexual transgender students.

A longtime suicide researcher, Hirsch said the prevention program will coordinate a number of separate campus services and programs dedicated to mental health awareness and supporting distressed students.

“We want to work with some of the ideas that you have to be tough, independent and a rugged individualist because we’re from the South, from Appalachia, which prevents people from seeking help,” Hirsch said. “You have to be tough and suck it up. You’re on your own. We are dealing with a proud and unique set of students here and I think sometimes those things get in the way of trying to help the student. We’re trying to overcome those barriers.”

When preparing the grant applica- tion, Hirsch found that 73 percent of students in his sample group reported alcohol use in the past month and 34 percent reported symptoms of depression.

Forty-eight percent of students surveyed reported having suicidal thoughts in the past, 13 percent had planned a suicide attempt, and 2 percent indicated they will make a future suicide attempt.

He said “young adolescents ages 15 to 24, there’s a lot going on — identity issues, social issues — and if you mix that with the college environment, which is potentially stressful, academically, socially, financially, really a lot of students are under pretty significant pressures, and don’t know how to deal with that in an appropriate manner.

He said counseling centers on campuses around the nation have seen an increase in business and in severity.

“We’re seeing the impact of having less parental focus on children, so kids aren’t getting what they need. I can’t tell you how many students we’re seeing where there’s no parental support,” Hirsch said.

He and other members of the prevention team will conduct focus groups, specialized suicide prevention curricula for students in health professions and promote awareness about campus and community resources, among other efforts.

Hirsch said team members “will know who (to) call, know where the counseling center is on campus and can walk the student over there. Gatekeepers will be potentially anybody, especially those in contact with the people at risk — faculty, staff, administration, resident assistant’s in the dormitories, people in student government who have a lot of exposure to the student body. They might be working late, see someone with their head on the desk crying. It could potentially be anybody who has contact with the student. We may not be able to train everybody on campus, but we need to get a good mixture.”

Information from: Kingsport Times-News, http:// www.timesnews.net


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