George Mason University: Mason offers options for mental health assistance, suicide prevention

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As part of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, George Mason University mental health leaders want to educate the campus community about the issues surrounding suicide and mental health, enabling Patriots to take part in suicide prevention, help others in crisis, and change the conversation around suicide.

College brings the excitement of increased freedom as well as the potential for anxiety-related to adjusting to living away from home, studying, and defining one’s identity. These stressors can serve as triggers for anxiety and depression, as well as emotional distress. These feelings could lead to suicidal thoughts or actions, creating tremendous and possibly dangerous implications if help is not sought out.

While COVID has begun to normalize conversations about mental health, a public stigma around suicide can prevent people from getting the help they need. One dangerous myth is that asking someone about suicidal thoughts will lead that person toward the behavior, said Jennifer Kahler, director of Mason’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

“But that’s not the case,” Kahler said. When suicide is spoken about with a focus on overcoming ideation and utilizing positive, hopeful and inspiring language, these conversations are highly beneficial and can prevent suicide.

“Asking about suicide actually opens the conversation so that those thinking about suicide don’t feel so alone,” said Mason psychology professor Christianne Esposito-Smythers, director of the Center for Evidence-Based Behavioral Health at Mason. “Oftentimes people will hide their thoughts from others and may feel as if no one will understand what they are going through. Asking others with warning signs about suicidal thoughts decreases the chance of suicidal actions.”
Mason provides student mental health resources and suicide prevention tools through a number of resources, including the MasonCARES Suicide Prevention Program, a two-hour gatekeeping program designed to train faculty, staff, and students in how to respond to individuals who may be experiencing distress and suicidal thoughts and guide them in seeking appropriate assistance through CAPS.

If someone is showing displays of behaviors such as anxiety, articulating a lack of purpose, stating feelings of being trapped or hopeless, not attending class or withdrawing from activities, experiencing mood swings, etc., these may be suicide warning signs.

“Training is one of the key parts of suicide prevention at Mason,” Kahler said. “MasonCARES educates faculty, students and staff on how to support students in distress by teaching them the right questions to ask, what to say and when to get them help. If individuals have training and recognize worrisome signs, say something to the student, and reach out to CAPS, that could make all the difference in getting that student help that they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.”
CAPS offers students immediate free assistance; there is no billing office and no insurance is required. Initial appointments are virtual, and providers work with students to find out their preferred method of treatment moving forward.

Any assistance students receive from CAPS is confidential and is kept separate from academic records, Kahler added.

graphic for suicide prevention
Another option for students is Mason’s Center for Psychological Services, where evidence-based, accessible, affordable and culturally sensitive therapy and testing services are provided by Mason graduate students under clinical supervision. Other services include an emotional support line and short-term intervention sessions.

One of the center’s goals is to train clinicians in evidence-based treatment, which incorporates suicide screening. This type of treatment is critical because it helps individuals to “become their own therapist, with lifelong skills such as the ability to effectively problem-solve, evaluate thoughts, manage strong emotions and communicate in a way that others will listen,” Esposito-Smythers said.

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