Marian Trattner

Facebook added a feature to its website to address suicidal behavior among users.

Users will now have the option to report a post they see on Facebook if it seems that the person who wrote it is thinking about self-harm or suicide. Reporting a post gives a user the option to reach out to the person who posted it, contact another friend for help or ask Facebook to contact the user.

Users do not have to be Facebook friends with the person whose post they report for the feature to work. 

Although the new Facebook feature could be useful, a conversation offline could be more helpful, said Marian Trattner, who works at the Counseling and Mental Health Center.

“Two-thirds of students who disclose thoughts of suicide first tell a friend, a partner or a family member before they come through our doors,” Trattner said. “Oftentimes, just by being open to having that conversation can help your friend get the help that they need. I think [the new Facebook feature] is one healthy way to reach out for help because I know that students are more comfortable communicating in this manner.”

Students are spending an increasing amount of time on social media, making it a more typical platform to post self-threatening comments, according to Robert Quigley, senior lecturer in the Moody College of Communication. 

“Every aspect of [students’] lives are documented in some way, so it shouldn’t be surprising that posts about self-harm or suicide would also be there for those who feel lost,”
Quigley said.

The reason people post upsetting statuses or photos on social media might be because they feel as if it is their last resort, according to psychology freshman Tim Dufrene, who said he thinks the new feature will be beneficial.

“It shows that the company cares about the well-being of their users,” Dufrene said. “Although it might seem very small, just knowing that someone cares enough about you to reach out to you and help you is something that can really improve the self-worth of someone at risk for suicide.”

Facebook is a leader in terms of social media and suicide prevention, Trattner said, and she hopes more websites will tackle this issue.

“I hope additional social media sites follow Facebook’s lead and build in safety centers in their sites or make their sites to be more proactive,” Trattner said.

The Counseling and Mental Health Center showcases signs discussing Suicide Prevention Week. The initiative, which started in 2009 aims to promote awareness and self-care.

Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

The Counseling and Mental Health Center began its annual “Suicide Prevention Week” on Monday to combat death by suicide, which, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, is the second leading cause of death among college students.

Suicide Prevention Week first took place at the University in 2009 and primarily focuses on spreading awareness and promoting self-care. Monday’s event aimed to inform students on the importance of listening to those who are struggling with mental health.

Marian Trattner, suicide prevention coordinator for the Counseling and Mental Health Center, or CMHC, said it is important to show students the issue exists and empower them to gain the skills and knowledge to combat the problem. According to Trattner, 18 percent of undergraduate students have seriously considered suicide, and 8 percent of them have made a suicide attempt.

“While those numbers are really hard to hear, the good news is that we can prevent suicide by talking about it and by letting students know, who are suffering in silence, that they are not alone, that people care about them and that there are resources on campus to help,” Trattner said.

The CMHC will hold events through Thursday, addressing ways to reduce the risk of suicide, promote self-care, highlight firearm safety and inform students on how they can be support systems for their peers. Jane Morgan Bost, associate director for the CMHC, said the department aims to detach any shame that is associated with suicide.

“We’re trying to raise awareness for an issue that, a lot of times, has shame connected to it,” Bost said. “We’re trying to bring it out of the shadows and into the light.”

Bost said, since she started working at the University 23 years ago, she has noticed a paradigm shift away from the stigma associated with going to the CMHC for aid.

“I find that more and more people are feeling … less reluctant about coming to get help,” Bost said. “However, we still have students who have told me the hardest thing they’ve ever done is coming to the counseling center.”

The CMHC offers individual counseling as well as a 24/7 “crisis line” for students to call to speak with trained staff about urgent concerns. Trattner said students can get involved by volunteering to help spread awareness, even though the counseling center is staffed by mental health clinicians.

Neurobiology senior Maisha Rumman has been volunteering to help plan the week since the early summer and said she is involved with the CMHC because she believes everyone is susceptible to struggling with mental health.

“I have friends and family who have mental health problems, and I’ve experienced firsthand how damaging it can be to your family and your life,” Rumman said. “I feel strongly that, at some time in your life, you’re going to encounter someone with these problems. That’s the reason I got involved.”

A new app called Whisper is gaining popularity among college students across the country. Whisper is a social platform that allows users to anonymously share secrets — hence the name — that they couldn’t comfortably share out loud. User posts, also referred to as “Whispers,” consist of brief, stylized text on top of an image or photo. Most Whispers are comical and innocent, like one set on the background of the UT Tower that reads, “Sometimes when I walk through campus at night I ask the Tower for advice.” But others are decidedly less benign, like one set against a picture of a young girl posing in the mirror, the text reads, “Working out used to be my outlet for stress relief but I can’t even do that anymore because of the cuts on my legs and arms.”

Earlier this week, a Texan article praised the Whisper app for “helping students feel a greater connection to their peers.” Indeed, there is value in giving young people a place to speak their minds in complete candor and anonymity. Marian Trattner, the Council and Mental Health Center’s suicide prevention coordinator, says that the Whisper concept can be beneficial to students.

“First, the user may feel some sense of relief getting that pain or suffering off of their shoulders,” Trattner said. “And it’s also often a positive for students to have that peer-to-peer connection around a common issue.” Sure enough, the Whisper app is equipped with a “ME2” button, which provides a chance to show the original poster that you sympathize. Users can even post full responses to posts that would ideally include positive feedback, encouragement, or advice.

Sadly, social platforms rarely operate so altruistically.

Instead, many of these alarming Whispers go without productive community response. One of the problems is that it’s difficult to know how to offer assistance to someone calling for help on an anonymous social media platform.

“There is a negative to this sort of social media sharing in that there is no access to resources,” Trattner said. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, and nearly all major universities offer extensive counseling and student resources.

A Whisper representative at UT acknowledged that the staff monitors the Whisper feed and deletes posts containing personal information, as it counteracts the app’s premise of anonymity. Other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have incorporated ways for users to report suicidal or concerning content, which prompts an automated response to the user in question providing details of regional and national suicide prevention hotlines and counseling centers. Some Facebook users might take offense at their personal updates being construed as suicidal red flags. But Facebook is demonstrating its commitment to the suicide prevention effort, which it sees as worthwhile despite the occasional disgruntled user.

The Whisper app is not unlike the actual mouth-to-ear whispers predating the days of social media. Then, like now, when a friend heard a worrisome admission, a referral to a support system was customary. If, for the sake of anonymity, it becomes difficult to reassure those in need of support that they’re not alone and that there is help out there, then the secret-sharing platform should take on that job.

I’m confident that the app’s administrators recognize that moral obligation and will implement some referral or support mechanism to aid users in need. But until that happens, the student community can pick up the slack. If you see a concerning Whisper, reply with a photo of the Student Services Building and the text, “You’re not alone. Help is right here. CMHC.”

And while you’re there, ask the Tower for some advice. At UT, counseling abounds.

St. Pierre is an English junior from Austin.

Elizabeth Wilson, a counseling psychology graduate student, talks about suicide prevention in the Union Tuesday evening. Wilson told students the warning signs of suicide and ways to help people get counseling.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students, a statistic UT Counseling and Mental Health Center officials hope can be minimized by raising awareness in the campus community.

Monday marked the beginning of UT’s fourth annual Suicide Prevention Week, organized by the Counseling and Mental Health Center. Throughout the week, the center will present seven interactive programs focusing on topics like learning to cope with a death by suicide and recognizing the signs of suicidal thoughts.

“We want to help remove the stigma from suicide prevention and mental health,” health education coordinator Marian Trattner said. “This week is in place to make students aware that there are resources out there to support them.”

Trattner said an average of three UT students die by suicide each year, which is consistent with the national average. Eighteen percent of undergraduate students in the United States have seriously considered suicide, said Jane Bost, associate director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center.

Trattner said organizers are changing this year’s suicide prevention week so it has a greater focus on social media and its role in suicide prevention. She said students are urged to follow UT’s Counseling and Health Services on Twitter and post any questions they may have about suicide or suicide prevention using the hashtag #SPWChat. The Twitter conversation will continue throughout the week using the hashtag #UTSPW. The center is also presenting an interactive program on suicide prevention via social networking sites Wednesday.

“There has been an increase in the media about people who reach out and cry out about suicide through social media, particularly through Facebook and Twitter,” Trattner said. “Since we have these outlets and tools, we want to continue to use them in a positive way.”

Bethanie Olivan, president of the UT chapter of To Write Love On Her Arms, a nonprofit movement aimed at helping people struggling with depression, self-injury and suicide, said she thinks the problem is prevalent in college students because of the stressors present during that time in their life.

“Our identities aren’t totally clear yet, so many people end up rooting their identities in grades and how others perceive them,” Olivan said. “When things in these realms go wrong, it can lead to a sense of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide.”

Bost said one of the goals of Suicide Prevention Week is to encourage students to take advantage of all of the suicide prevention resources the University has available. The UT Counseling and Mental Health Center offers in-house psychiatric services, stress reduction exercises and free year-round telephone counseling to help students deal with depression and suicidal thoughts.

“There is nothing shameful or embarrassing about your struggle,” Olivan said. “Reaching out for help is the best thing you can do and is a sign of strength. Therapy or medication can be the difference between life and death.”

Suicide Prevention Week ends Friday at the Texas Union building in room 3.116 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. with a workshop aimed at teaching students to recognize the signs of suicidal thoughts in their friends and refer them to professional help.

Printed on Wednesday, September 26, 2012 as: Suicide prevention week informs students

Marty Swanbrow Becker talks to students about recognizing the warning signs for suicide Thursday evening. Becker works for the Counseling and Mental Health Center, which is promoting Be That One Suicide Prevention program as part of its prevention week.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

The purpose of this year’s upcoming suicide prevention week is clear: to inform and educate students about the measures they can take if they think someone they know is at risk of suicide, said Counseling and Mental Health Center officials.

Suicide Prevention week runs from Sept. 19 to 24, although a related workshop was held Thursday to address issues concerning suicide among college students and how it can be prevented. Marty Becker, graduate assistant at the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said 50 percent of college students have had suicidal thoughts, according to a national survey.

“Eighteen percent responded that their thoughts of suicide were serious and 8 percent of undergraduate respondents said they had attempted suicide before,” Becker said.

These statistics are startling, Becker said, who is part of an effort to train the UT Police Department, resident assistants, media, faculty and students to be prepared in an effort to make these situations less likely to occur.

Becker said it is important to recognize the warning signs of suicide, which may include a noticeable change in behavior, highly negative language or an overall detachment from society.

“Students often come to the counseling center at the last minute while in a crisis,” Becker said. “It’s much easier to prevent this situation if they are brought [in] at an earlier time.”

Another crucial step to preventing suicides is to emphasize the availability of professional help, Becker said.

“It’s important to listen and be there, but don’t feel solely responsible. That’s the job for the professionals,” Becker said. “The key is to get them to counseling as soon as possible.”

The way media covers suicide stories can also influence people to act on their suicidal thoughts, said Marian Trattner, suicide prevention coordinator at CMHC. The phenomena of copycat and contagion suicides, in which people are influenced by the descriptions or glorification of previous suicides, can be prevented by the behavior of the media, Trattner said.

“The impact of news media on suicide is big,” Trattner said. “But the media can also play a huge role in suicide prevention.”

To help prevent suicides, the media can avoid romanticizing or glorifying suicides and avoid detailed descriptions of the method or place of death, Trattner said.

Jani Rameswaran, nursing senior and internal training captain of Longhorn Emergency Medical Services, said these programs are very beneficial to the UT community. Throughout the week, UT will host workshops and lectures to raise awareness about suicide prevention and the importance of getting professional help.

“[People at risk of suicide] are an underserved population that we don’t talk about too much at UT,” Rameswaran said. “We need more people engaged across the University.”

Printed on Friday, September 16, 2011 as: Workshops focus on suicide prevention for college students.