Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people between 10 to 24, and college students are no exception to this tragedy. Denison supports our students’ emotional health through information, counseling, and online resources that can help prevent suicide.

“Denison has a long-standing commitment to supporting students’ well-being in general, and their mental health in particular,” says Laurel Kennedy, vice president for student development. “Our partnership with JED Campus is an example of our commitment. We are working to be a leader in the field to support our students’ emotional health.”

As part of these efforts, Denison began a partnership with the JED Foundation, an organization that guides schools through a collaborative process of comprehensive systems, program and policy development with customized support to build upon existing student mental health, substance use and suicide prevention efforts. IN 2017, the college became a member of JED’s “Healthy Campus” network.

The JED Healthy Campus Team, a group of faculty, staff, and students, formed to support student mental health. As a first step, the team completed an inventory of the work going on across campus and examined institutional data. JED staff members and a subject matter expert consulted with the team. They reviewed data and identified places where the college could continue to strengthen its approach. They also commended the work Denison had been doing to support mental health.

From that self-evaluation, the site visit, and institutional data, Denison’s JED Committee identified four priorities to guide its work.

  • to equip faculty, staff, and students with resources to support student mental health,
  • to help students prioritize their own wellness,
  • to increase students’ help-seeking and reduce stigma and
  • to increase student resilience.

“We identified those priorities and created action items in pursuit of these goals,” says Julie Tucker, Denison’s assistant vice president for student development. “Our JED committee’s work over these last two years has been focused on achieving those four goals.”

“When we looked at our data, we saw that students were very likely to talk about their mental health challenges with peers. We wanted to equip their peers (fellow students) with knowledge so they could help a friend in distress and also be knowledgeable bystanders in the event they’d need to intervene,” said university chaplain and director of Religious & Spiritual Life Phoebe Myhrum Bentley. “That’s one example of how the data, our goals, and action items all connect.”

Between 2017 and 2019, Denison’s JED Committee has partnered with offices across campus to achieve the following:

  • QPR-Trained 373 students and 231 faculty/staff, (Question, Persuade, Refer), a 90- minute, 3-step suicide prevention training, including all coaches.
  • All staff in dining services and facilities services, staff who are on the “frontline” and in a position to notice students’ day-to-day behaviors received Gatekeeper Training. Gatekeeper Training provides information about how to connect students to mental health resources.
  • We have designed and launched campaigns in support of students’ wellness: prioritizing wellness campaign and bounce back campaign (as part of Fresh Check Day).
  • An environmental scan of campus was conducted by Campus Safety.
  • We have conducted a thorough review of our medical leave policy.
  • We offered a community-provided open house.

In addition to the work taken on by the JED team, others on campus have taken the lead on several initiatives, including:

  • We have an increased number of counselors on campus.
  • We have elevated awareness of wellness opportunities through newsletters and weekly posters.
  • Faculty have taken part in development opportunities for supporting mental health and student well-being through Provost’s Office and Center for Learning & Teaching.
  • The Vice President for Student Development led a session during June Orientation for parents on how to support their students.
  • The Office of Student Development developed a postvention guide.
  • The Wellness Center organized two prescription drug collection days in 2017 and 2019.
  • We have implemented campus-wide emphasis on mindfulness.
  • An Athletics Division III Week focused on mental health.
  • We overhauled the wellness website to include our holistic approach to wellness.

In 2019-2020, the committee’s formal relationship with the JED Foundation will conclude, as Denison will move into “alumni status,” with JED. In this final year with the JED Foundation, the committee has narrowed its purpose so that it can focus more precisely on suicide prevention specifically, rather than mental health in general.

“We’ve done a lot of good work elevating conversations on mental health and equipping our community with information and skills to support students’ mental health,” says Tucker. “As we proceed into this final year, it’s critically important that we focus our energies on suicide prevention more specifically.”

December 16, 2019