By Alex Sharp VIII ('10), JMU Public Affairs
As director of the new Campus Suicide Prevention Center at JMU, Jane Wiggins hopes to change the ways people think about preventing suicide.
Most people who think about suicide don't really want to die. That's one of the things Jane Wiggins learned during her 18 years as a crisis intervention counselor for Rockingham County Schools.
"They need something. They need a change. They need relief," Wiggins said.
A new suicide prevention center based at JMU, the Campus Suicide Prevention Center of Virginia, hopes to provide that relief for college students across the commonwealth.
"We're trying to get people to think differently about what it means to prevent suicide," said Wiggins, director of the newly-created CSPC. "It's not just enough anymore to catch somebody just before they act on their thoughts. That's a strategy, but it's not enough by itself. We want to get ahead of that so that fewer people wind up in that position."
In addition to getting students the help they need once they've had suicidal thoughts, the CSPC will promote healthy activities and social interconnectedness to prevent those thoughts from arising in the first place. JMU organizations like Active Minds and the Public Health Promotion Office, among others, will work with the CSPC to create new and entertaining activities for college students.
"We'll be working closely with the Counseling Center and Residence Life in any way we can to facilitate educating the students and faculty on warning signs of behavior that may indicate depression and possible suicide," said Jane Hubbell, an assistant director in JMU's Institute for the Innovation of Health and Human Services.
The CSPC is funded through a grant from the Virginia Department of Health, which was awarded to IIHHS.
"JMU has worked very closely with the Department of Health on a number of initiatives in the past," said Hubbell. "And one of those areas we've worked very closely with VDH on has been in the area of depression and possible suicide, and JMU is recognized as a leader in the field."
Wiggins runs the CSPC from a small office adjacent to IIHHS headquarters in Blue Ridge Hall. According to the CSPC Web site, the center strives to reduce risk for suicide across Virginia's higher education settings by providing campuses with training, consultation and prevention resources.
JMU will host the first CSPC event, "The Healthy Minds Study Guided Work Day," at the Festival Conference and Student Center on October 15. Student planning teams from eight Virginia colleges, including JMU, the University of Virginia, George Mason University and Bridgewater College, will use data from the Virginia 2009 Healthy Minds Study to guide mental health promotion and suicide prevention. Facilitators for the workday, Dr. Daniel Eisenberg and Dr. Laurie Davidson, will help campus teams-which may include representatives from Greek life, the counseling center, campus police and residence life-identify risk and protective factors, address needs and strategies for preventing suicide, and create clear goals for both system and behavior change.
"Suicide is very complex," Wiggins said. "There's no single strategy that is going to work very well all by itself. You're going to have to develop a number of strategies to really have an effect or make a big difference in the long run."
The resources and the desire to help exist, and now that there is an organization devoted entirely to promoting mental health and preventing risk factors of suicide, college campuses statewide can take some pressure off overworked and understaffed campus therapists.
"I feel like, collectively, what we're doing matters," Wiggins said. "And though I don't usually get to see people's lives changing for the better first-hand, I know that it is happening."