Young people face a myriad of stressful events throughout their college years from academic pressures to family and relationship issues. Studies say as many as 20 percent of students will experience suicidal thoughts during college and 9 percent will actually attempt it.
Those facts struck a chord with Casey Rose, a fourth-year medical student at the School of Medicine.
“I was going through my behavioral health class with Dr. Trenton Meyers and he made it evident that suicide is a big problem,” Rose said. “I started thinking that I’ve been doing all this studying and getting prepared for my boards, and the things I’ve been doing are pretty much for myself. I haven’t really put myself out there to help others.”
That is when Rose got the idea to increase awareness of suicide prevention and offer help to students that might be contemplating suicide.
With the support of the medical school, Rose was able to get stickers printed that offer suicide help with hotline numbers. Currently, the stickers are in restrooms throughout the medical school and will be placed in all restrooms throughout the UMKC Health Sciences and Volker campuses.
Rose said Myers, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and course director for behavioral sciences at the School of Medicine, was one his strongest proponents for the project.
“He helped me design the wording for the stickers, using what’s worked for him to help his patients reach out for help when they’ve needed it,” Rose said. “With that and with student feedback, we created these stickers.”
Rose surveyed more than 100 students and used the responses, as well as input from other mental health professionals, to land upon a simple message: “It’s OK to not be OK. Let’s talk.” Included with the message are ways students can get help. Each sticker provides the Suicide Hotline number 1-800-273-TALK and a text option HOME to 741741. Medical students also have access to help through a program called Well Connect with a 24-hour number, 1-866-640-4777, that is included on the decals placed in the School of Medicine.
Myers said suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students today in the United States. He believes the issue flies under the radar because people generally do not like to talk or think about it, or are nervous to speak about it.
“My hope is that when students see these stickers, it will give them the permission they need to spark a conversation with others and openly communicate about it,” he said. “I also hope that it will help those who are silently struggling to know that they are not alone or forgotten.”
For college-aged students, traumatic or difficult to handle events that can cause stress leading to suicidal thoughts can include academic and future career issues, death or other family issues, issues with intimate and other social relationships, personal health problems or even sleep disruptions. And now, these issues may be exacerbated with students returning to campus and dealing with anxieties related to coronavirus.
But Rose said the stickers are not just for those who may be thinking about suicide.
“I’m aware that the chance someone sees a sticker and it saves their life is not exceedingly high,” he said. “But you might see the sticker and remember the number you saw the next time your friend texts you and is like, ‘I’m having a horrible night, having thoughts of being better off dead.’ You could send that number you remember seeing. Maybe the sticker is just the nudge that you need.”
While Rose is quick to share the credit for creating the stickers, Myers finds inspiration in his drive to initiate and see the project through.
“I think Casey’s project speaks volumes about the virtuosity, humanism and caritas demonstrated by our amazing students here at the School of Medicine,” Myers said. “Casey was not looking for any kind of recognition with this project and did this purely with the intention to help those in need. This exemplifies the type of compassion and altruism I wish we could see in all physicians today.”