In time for the new school year, the Washington state Legislature passed a new suicide prevention law that requires all public institutions to provide a suicide hotline number on students’ I.D. cards.
This new law is involved with Senate Bill 6514, which concerns suicide prevention and behavioral health in higher education.
Because Gonzaga University, among other private schools, is not a state-funded institution, the school is not bound to comply to this law. However, this does not mean GU is excusing itself from abiding.
Eric Baldwin, assistant vice president of student development and dean of student well-being and healthy living at GU, has worked with Judi Biggs Garbuio, vice president for student development, the Health and Counseling Center, Office of Health Promotion (OHP), and other leaders to change the I.D. cards for incoming freshman and transfer students.
"Anytime a state institution is required to do something, private institutions take the time to think, ‘Is this a good idea?’ And if it’s a good idea, then we ought to be doing it," Baldwin said.
Zagcards now provide the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number, 1-800-273-8255.
While Baldwin reaffirmed GU’s resources concerning suicide, such as the Health and Counseling Center, the Center for Cura Personalis and the REFER Forms, among others, he agreed with the state that a 24-hour number should be provided at students’ fingertips.
"This number that we added is the number that we always talk about with our students already," he said. "It’s not a different resource — it is one that is answered 24 hours a day, and it is one that is very predictable and very highly rated,"
While the new Zagcards are not being reprinted for returning students, Baldwin, OHP and the Health and Counseling Center are still concerned with making sure all students have that information available in emergency situations.
In questioning how to distribute the number campus-wide, Baldwin said, "We are looking for ways to get that information. If it is good for first-year and new students, it is good for existing students." As of now, resource cards and tent pop-ups have been considerable methods for extending the information to returning students.
"In communities like Gonzaga that are high-performing and high-expectation, it is even harder to ask for help," Baldwin said. "If it helps one person, it is worth having on the back of an I.D. card."
GU’s fellow Spokane private school Whitworth University is not choosing to add a hotline number to student I.D. cards.
Regardless, suicide prevention around college students is a statewide effort in Washington, and changing student I.D. cards is only the first step at GU.
In the Office of Health Promotion, there are three educators who are dedicated to mental and emotional well-being, healthy relationships and violence prevention and alcohol and other drug abuse. Katie Noble, the health educator for mental and emotional well-being and suicide prevention, is making efforts to continue the discussion of suicide prevention and mental health on college campuses.
"We know that suicide is the second leading cause of death for all students in the U.S., so providing students opportunities to have a conversation that raises awareness and the literacy around suicide prevention is a really effective tool in terms of being able to prevent it on our own campus," she said.
Noble is not alone in these efforts. She works alongside the alcohol and drug use and healthy relationship educators to encapsulate all factors that may lead to suicide dangers.
"Each of those areas have an intersection with suicide, so these conversations are definitely sprinkled within those different areas," Noble said.
Throughout the school year, Noble holds training sessions in mental health first aid, an eight-hour course designed to teach the warning signs of common mental health disorders and how to provide help and resources. Noble is also available to specific clubs, organizations or departments for group trainings in suicide awareness and prevention.
In September, Noble anticipates observing National Suicide Awareness Month. Students can expect Health Huts and trainings to raise awareness about suicide signs and prevention practices.
"I encourage students to come to those trainings so we can have those conversations and be better prepared to recognize the ways we can show up and be a Zag and step in when someone needs help," she said.