As part of our two part story about suicide rates among Oregonians and the stresses of college aged people we began to wonder what programs exist on the Southern Oregon University campus and, if they exist, do they work?
We found SOU Cares, a camps wide directive to observe students who may be struggling and reach out to them with an offer of assistance. But is it effective? Taylor Burke thinks so. As director of student development and support services she knows all about the SOU Cares program, and she wants you to know a little bit about it too.
SOU Cares gives people the opportunity to tell trained staff about troubling behavior in a friend, classmate, coworker, or acquaintance at SOU. When SOU Cares receives a report, staff contacts the person of concern. Burke explains, “Often it’s a really friendly email we send out, to say we’ve received this really kind note of concern and we’d like to meet with you, to see if we can provide some kind of support.”
Historically mental health has been a big issue in Oregon. In 2012 the age adjusted suicide rates in Oregon soared 41 percent above the national average. That reality may create questions-is SOU paying enough attention enough to address the issues of depression and suicide? Do people actually submit reports of concern? According to SOU data the answer is yes. So far this school year 975 students were reported in SOU Cares reports, this is more than in the entire 2013 school year.
The increase is not due exclusively to student involvement. Students have not submitted as many reports as faculty. In a sample of 50 SOU Cares reports only 5 students reported concerns for other students. But Burke believes more students will submit reports in the future: “I think we will continue to see students learning about this process. Most of our institutional education has been aimed at faculty and staff and we sort of have easier access to faculty and staff although many students, as they are in student leadership roles, are also trained in SOU cares reports, and I think going forward we will have additional training for students and we will begin to see equivalent numbers of reports coming from students.”
Burke wanted to clear misconceptions that these reports were a way to “tell on” other students. The reports do not force students into treatment. Burke said, “There are occasions where we reach out to offer support, and the student says, ‘Oh no, I’ve taken care of that, I don’t need help with that,’ and that’s perfectly fine. Students can decline additional support.” But later on Burke added, “…generally students are touched deeply that someone cared about them, and cared enough to submit a report.”
SOU Cares reports cover every topic from suicide to hate crimes. You can submit a SOU Cares report by clicking here(hyperlink to https://sou-advocate.symplicity.com/care_report/index.php/pid954293?) filling out all the required fields and hitting the submit button.