NAU implements program keeping Jacks safe

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College students worldwide report increasingly higher levels of stress on college campuses.

Carol O’Saben, NAU’s director of Counseling Services, read results of a 2013 American College Health Association survey, which reflected significant stress levels among NAU students, some who reported higher than average levels of depression and anxiety.

O’Saben immediately began searching for a program with the potential to train greater numbers of campus individuals who could identify students experiencing emotional stress.

After reviewing several programs, O’Saben chose Campus Connects, which was developed at Syracuse University in New York.

“I wanted a program for the average person on campus to be able to recognize if somebody was experiencing significant stress,” said O’Saben, who said most college students who commit suicide have never had contact with the school’s counseling center.

NAU rolled out the program, dubbed SafeJacks, two years ago with 25 individuals trained to facilitate it. The handpicked group included counseling staff, representatives from Athletics, the police department, Residence Life and others. The following year, an additional 17 people were trained to facilitate the program across campus.

“We have been focused on training people with front line contact with individuals who be in distress: Residence Life, student leaders, fraternity and sorority leadership teams and peer mentor groups,” O’Saben said.

Since 2014, more than 1,000 students, faculty and staff have been trained in the Campus Connects program, preparing them to identify students experiencing emotional distress and possible suicidal thoughts.

A Campus Connects refresher course was also created so individuals could brush up on their skills.

Katie Sheridan, a senior academic advisor, participated in the training along with students she works with in the Honors Program.

“It was interactive and put us on the spot addressing certain deep situations,” Sheridan said. “I’ve worked with students for a long time, including some with different kinds of emotional distress, so it confirmed some of the things I already did and helped guide me in other ways.”

O’Saben said a Campus Connects effort is underway to train more faculty members during the upcoming school year. She is also evaluating the program and the refresher course so Campus Connects can best serve NAU students in the future.

NAU was recently recognized by peers at the University of Kentucky; out of 42 universities, SafeJacks was singled out for training the highest number of individuals in in suicide prevention using both in-person and online training programs.