At Texas Christian University, where there have been six suicides in the last three years, training staff to recognize the warning signs of suicide is considered an imperative. And because paying for an education is a major stressor for students, TCU has had every employee in its financial aid office trained in a detection method known as QPR.
Standing for “question, persuade, and refer,” and developed by the suicide training program provider QPR Institute, the approach helps people recognize the warning signs of suicide, know how to offer hope, and know how to get help and save a life.
Often, students will lose financial aid because a dip in their grades has made them ineligible. But the financial aid offices usually don’t know if a student’s grades have dropped because he or she is suffering from mental illness, or have lost a family member or experienced some other traumatic event, says Cortney Gumbleton, TCU’s suicide prevention outreach coordinator.
“People often feel suicidal when they’re experiencing loss,” says Gumbleton.
Financial aid staff members have no idea what may have happened to a student arriving at the office, and then that student must be told financial aid has been lost. This, she adds, “could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
The QPR training was completed through a Campus Suicide Prevention Grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Although there isn’t necessarily a reason to believe the recent TCU suicides were related to finances, Gumbleton says she felt it was important to begin the training with the financial aid office before moving on to the rest of the staff. The financial aid officers are likely to see students who are “in dire straits,” she says. Tuition at TCU (not accounting for books, room, and board), is now $36,500. It has risen 12.3 percent since the 2011-2012 academic year.
While QPR-certified instructors are not required to report their trainings to the QPR Institute, Kathryn L. White, national coordinator, says she hasn’t heard of any other colleges training financial aid staff.
This isn’t the first time a link has been made between financial aid and mental health, however. Student debt was portrayed as a deadly red smoke threatening students in a short film, “The Red,” which was released last summer by SALT—the American Student Assistance financial literacy program for students and alumni—as part of the organization’s “Face The Red” campaign.