MSU receives funding for Suicide Prevention and Awareness

MSU will be able to broaden its suicide prevention and awareness programs due to a $248,000 grant. The three year grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The funding will be vital as MSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) takes steps towards increasing community awareness and understanding of mental health issues and ensuring that those who struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts receive the help they need.

Brian Kassar, CPS psychologist and outreach coordinator, explained that nationwide surveys among students show that one in 10 college students has seriously considered suicide and that almost a quarter of them have experienced significant depression. He added that Montana has one of the highest rates of completed suicides in the nation and that suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students.

In response to continued concern over these issues at MSU, CPS convened a campus-wide Suicide Prevention Task Force in the summer of 2013 to evaluate the campus as a whole using the Jed Foundation’s Comprehensive Plan for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health as a guide. This approach enabled CPS to evaluate their current programs, decide where the most growth was needed, and move to join the Campus Program, a non-profit organization which provides assistance from the Jed Campus and Clinton Health Matters organizations for assessing and implementing mental health programming on campuses.

“The SAMHSA grant application was opened in April of 2014, and we decided to go for it to provide solid funding to allow us to expand our programming, implement recommendations from the Campus Program and work with SAMHSA and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center to apply our grant proposal. The yearly budget of the grant is almost nine times the annual programming/administrative budget at CPS, so it will allow us to do things that we’ve never been able to do before,” Kassar said.

An existing program which CPS plans to improve is its Screening for Mental Health Program, an online resource that anonymously provides students with access to screening for depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating issues and substance abuse. This allows students a way to identify symptoms they may have and also can refer them to CPS for follow-up consultation if they so choose.

Kassar added that the grant funding will be used to promote awareness of mental health services and wellness and to provide online training so the MSU community can better understand and recognize warning signs of suicide and depression. It will also offer more opportunities for CPS to work with student leaders and campus organizations to ensure that everyone on campus is knowledgeable about mental health issues and what resources are available.

“Most people who feel suicidal have untreated or undiagnosed depression, and once they get treatment, their suicidal thoughts dissipate,” Kassar said. “We particularly need to encourage our young men to seek help. Men complete suicide four times more than women typically because they don’t seek treatment for depression or other issues, which causes isolation and worsening of symptoms. We need to let all people, and particularly men, know that seeing a doctor or counselor for treatment isn’t shameful or a sign of weakness, but it’s the best thing that they can do to take care of themselves and function at their best in school, work and in their personal lives.”

Located at the Student Health Center, MSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services provides confidential counseling to all students free of charge. To learn more you can visit their website at or call 994-4531.