After death of WSU quarterback, how local colleges approach suicide prevention

On the day after Washington State University quarterback Tyler Hilinski's death by suicide, Lori Miller, a counselor at Seattle Central College said, "I'm just heartbroken for that family."

Miller says studies of people who die by suicide show that too often, they did not turn to people like her.

"Very few of them sought assistance from a counselor, they'll go to an instructor, maybe, or talk to a friend, maybe," Miller said.

That's why suicide prevention experts increasingly advocate widespread training so everyone knows warning signs.

At Seattle Central, staff members are trained to identify potential problems.

At the University of Washington's Forefront Suicide Prevention, there's an increasing focus on peer-to-peer counseling.

"We believe it is everybody's business to have some suicide prevention to have some knowledge to take steps so that tragedies like this don't occur again," said Jennifer Baron of Forefront.

UW and WSU are among 14 colleges and universities in Washington known as JED Campuses, participating in a comprehensive suicide prevention program through the Jed Foundation.

Officials at the University of Puget Sound say they have a protocol requiring students identified as engaging in self-harming behaviors to complete four sessions of psychological assessment.

There's also a bill in Olympia to put a higher priority on behavioral health and suicide prevention on higher ed campuses, and provide more funding.

Barron testified in support of the bill just this week.

"Suicide today is really a public health crisis and that we really need to be more vocal in talking about it," she said.

A 2016 report on mental health and suicide prevention in Washington higher education cited an American College Health Association survey that found nationwide, 9.5% of students seriously considered suicide and that 1.5% attempted suicide in the last year.

The study says less than 20 percent of these students were in treatment.

"We're seeing more and more students with depression, with mental health issues," said Lori Miller at Seattle Central.

But she says several counselors have retired and she's not sure if they'll be replaced.

"The need's up but the resources are down," Miller said.

Experts remind everyone to look out for warning signs like a person talking about wanting to die or escape, losing interest in their favorite things, or becoming irritable and increasingly losing sleep.

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number is 1-800-273-8255.

Counselors can also be reached by text at 741 741.

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