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Empathy as a College Suicide Prevention Strategy. Dori S. Hutchinson, Sc.D. Margaret Ross, MD Boston University. Our Reality…..Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students. The Context of our Crisis. The “Me” Generation. Raised to feel good –everyone has a blue ribbon.

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empathy as a college suicide prevention strategy
Empathy as a College Suicide Prevention Strategy

Dori S. Hutchinson, Sc.D.

Margaret Ross, MD

Boston University

the me generation
The “Me” Generation
  • Raised to feel good –everyone has a blue ribbon.
  • First generation raised on line.
  • Described as self-centered, competitive, highly accomplished, and entitled.
  • Lack coping skills and emotional resilience.
  • Attending College under “soaring expectations and crushing realities.” (Twenge, 2006)
  • Financial Burden of attending college is stunning for this generation
lack of empathy
Lack of Empathy
  • Students in this generation have an empathy deficit.
  • University of Michigan Study of 13,737 college students documented 40% lower scores in capacity to empathize than counterparts 20-30 years ago. ( Konrath, et al, 2011)
  • Qualitative study found that this generations feels very little obligation or collective responsibility to help others in distress. (Smith & Snell, 2009)
distress on campus
Distress on Campus
  • Rising levels of distress and mental illnesses on campus.
  • ACHA (2011) study: 61% reported feeling very sad, 31% felt so depressed that it was difficult to function in past 12 months.
  • Suicidal thinking far more common on campuses: 18% of undergraduates, 15% of graduate students have seriously considered attempting suicide..
what contributes to this distress
What Contributes to this Distress?
  • Social Media-electronic connectedness: functional buffer to empathy.
  • Parental anxiety and helicopter parenting
  • Current World and Economic Realities
  • Lack of resiliency and coping skillsdelayed development of stress hardiness.
why is empathy important on campus
Why is Empathy important on Campus?
  • Empathy a critical dimension of resilient mindset and wellbeing.(Brooks, 2010)
  • Empathy is a skill that can be taught to students.
  • Empathy is a characteristic of cultures that can be nurtured and strengthened.
  • Empathy and its counterpart, distress, have academic, health, social, financial and moral implications for College Communities.
why are students distressed
Why are students distressed?
  • Emerging mental illnesses
  • Academics
  • Relationships
  • Family issues
  • Financial Issues
  • Balancing work-school and social lives
what distress looks like on campus
What Distress looks like on Campus
  • Poor grades
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Risky behaviors
  • Excessive alcohol and drug use-Binging
  • Sexual aggression often under the influence of alcohol
  • Hazing and bullying in person and electronically
  • Body image and eating disorders
student response to distress
Student Response to Distress
  • They turn to one another-67% of the time they seek each other in times of need.
  • They do not willingly seek adult or professional help.
targeted empathy tools
Targeted Empathy Tools
  • An initiative at Boston University to build empathy at the community, faculty and student levels-Funded by SAMHSA GLS Campus Suicide prevention grant.
  • Focus is on infusing the community with empathetic attitudes, resources, and skills to promote help-seeking and reduce distress.
  • Development of website to communicate student to student that their mental health is important and that help is available on campus.
  • www.bu.edu/mentalhealth
  • Mental health roundtable to create collegial empathy communication amongst campus providers.
tell someone bu listens
“Tell Someone, BU listens”

Collaboration with ACTIVE MINDS group to decrease loneliness associated with distress and increase empathy on campus for distress.

student support network training
Student Support Network Training
  • Evidence based curriculum that builds the skill of empathy in students to assist them to recognize signs of distress and suicide in their peers ( Morse & Shulze, 2009)
  • The goal is to not leave empathy to chance, but to teach the skills of empathy to activate it in our college community.
  • Targeted Athletes, ROTC program, Greek Life, Minorities, LGBTQ, international students, RA’s for 2 reasons:
    • They have specific risk factors for distress that can lead to suicidal thinking and suicide
    • They represent large subpopulations of students to help us create a dense network of empathy champions on the student level of our campus.
student support network training1
Student Support Network Training
  • 6 week course. Meets 1 hour each week.
  • Students recruited and nominated to a “leadership Training”.
  • We offer 4 groups of 12 students at a time, co-led by 2 faciliatators.
  • We offer it once a semester.
  • Manualized EBP curriculum developed by Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Each module includes information and skills teaching of empathy, supporting someone in distress and referring
modules of student support network training
Modules of Student Support Network Training
  • Mental Health and Distress on Campus
  • Using Empathy as a Supportive Skill
  • Depression and Anxiety
  • Alcohol and Substance Abuse
  • Recognizing and Responding to Suicidal Behavior
  • Using Empathy to help others get help

“Listening creates a holy silence. When you listen generously to people, they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time. And when you listen deeply and respond with empathy, you can know yourself in everyone.”-Rachel Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom

responding to students in distress for faculty
Responding to Students in Distress For Faculty
  • Modification of the SSN training to teach faculty how to respond with empathy as well as refer.
  • 90 minute trainings that focus on the power of an empathetic response to a student in distress.
  • Targeted faculty meetings at 17 colleges at the University.
  • Show the BU SECRET video first to evoke empathy in faculty that these are THEIR students in OUR community.
  • Administration, faculty and students in cross site evaluation document the cultural change in campus –it has become a “caring community” and also indicate increased knowledge of how to respond to distress and suicidal thinking.
  • “The program has given me the confidence to make the call to help someone in need, it has helped me to become a better listener, and a better friend”.
  • Over a 1000 people trained thus far.
  • Increased help seeking behaviors on campus-
questions discussion inspiration
Questions, Discussion, & Inspiration
  • Contact information
  • Dori Hutchinson, Sc.D
  • dorih@bu.edu
  • Margaret Ross, MD
  • mross@bu.edu