In 2000, a man who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge with the intention to commit suicide survived.

He was one of hundreds to make the attempt, but one of very few to live.

A video detailing his experience, his recovery, and his gratefulness to be alive can be found on the website of Forefront, a new organization with roots on the UW campus and a rapidly growing reach.

The group is a collaboration of the UW School of Social Work, the UW Communication Department, UW School of Nursing, and the UW College of Education. The group has also partnered with Facebook, SafeCampus, the UW Police Department, and Huskies for Suicide Prevention + Awareness (HSPA) to create an extensive and cohesive network for UW students, faculty, and staff to depend on.

So far, Forefront has collected data that shows 14 suicide deaths of UW students in the last five years, which aligns with national data for college campuses.

Based on this alignment, Forefront can surmise that the UW numbers for suicide attempts and ideation also lines up with national figures. This means there are approximately 600-700 suicide attempts every year and more than 4,000 students are actively considering suicide at any given time.

Collected data is used to assess the campus need for services and programs, and to identify any key gaps in suicide prevention and readiness.

“UW, as part of their credit, is really going above and beyond in terms of wanting to look at this data,” said Lauren Davis, Forefront director of campuses and schools.

Many universities, she said, are not spending the resources to collect this same data, and not to the same extent.

However, this may change.

The work Forefront has done in collecting data and asking critical questions about suicide prevention readiness has caught the attention of state representative Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, the prime sponsor of House Bill 1138.

This bill would require every two- and four-year college in the state of Washington to conduct a mini-version of what’s been done at the UW, collecting and considering data, training faculty and staff, and working to fill any gaps in prevention services.

House Bill 1138 passed 91-6 in the Washington state Legislature March 2. Since then it was referred to “Ways and Means,” where further action will be taken.

“The hope is that [this law] will drive forward this conversation, not just here at the UW because we have federal funding for it, but really at every two- and four-year institution,” Davis said.

Davis also hopes that the legislation would spark future funding allocations, which could go to hiring more mental health counselors or providing better suicide prevention training to staff and students.

Currently, Davis said, the UW is at a 40 percent deficit in the number of counselors per student. But thanks to Forefront and its work with other campus entities, training for suicide prevention and readiness is on the rise.

One of Forefront’s achievements has been to create formally written protocols for responding to students in distress. A specialized portion of Forefront employees identified four areas of reaction: identification, intervention, re-entry, and post-vention.

The decided go-to procedure for any student, staff, or faculty, Davis said, is to call SafeCampus, a campus entity formed in 2007.

“That was actually a huge decision,” Davis said. “Because there really was no one-stop shop, crisis line, if you will, for this campus.”

Before, SafeCampus was known by the UW community as a resource primarily for people experiencing violence in the workplace or in a relationship. Now, Forefront is working with HSPA and SafeCampus to change public opinion and promote the phone number, 206-685-SAFE, around campus.

David Girts, manager of SafeCampus, stressed the importance of noticing and reporting self-endangering behavior, either in oneself or others.

“It’s much better to call when it might not be absolutely necessary than to not call when it was absolutely necessary,” Girts said. “Air on the side of being too involved rather than not involved enough.”

Besides increased publicity, the collaboration between SafeCampus and Forefront could mean better resources provided in a timelier manner for the UW community, Girts said.

Both campus entities are working in tandem with UW Health & Wellness, another resource working to improve its outreach.  

“There’s just a lot of efforts right now to educate the community,” said Kiana Swearingen, SafeCampus Training and Communications Specialist.

This effort to educate could mean better training on how to notice, and subsequently deal with, visible concern in friends, classmates, or coworkers.

Swearingen said it’s important to keep the long term in mind when trying to decide whether or not to report a friend’s suicidal thoughts.

“You want that person to be healthy and still alive and functioning,” Swearingen said. “Your goal is their health rather than the immediate relationship ramifications of disclosing someone’s ideations.”

While the stigma surrounding suicide may be thick, it’s important to normalize the experience of becoming concerned about someone you’re close to, Girts said.

“This is not something really weird,” he said. “This stuff happens all the time.”


Reach reporter Danielle Palmer-Friedman at Twitter: @DanyellPF

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