CLEMSON – Clemson University has been awarded a three-year grant for more than $304,000 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to enhance university programs to address suicidal behavior.

Martie Thompson, a research professor in the Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, and Heidi Zinzow, an associate professor in the psychology department, received The Garret Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant for their proposal, “Clemson Cares: A Campus-Wide, Comprehensive Suicide Prevention Strategy.”

Doctors Heidi Zinzow, an associate professor in Clemson University's psychology department, and Martie Thompson, a research professor in the Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, take a break between classes in Brackett Hall. (Photo by Ken Scar)

Heidi Zinzow and Martie Thompson are collaborating on research into enhancing university suicide prevention programs.  (Photo by Ken Scar)
Image Credit: Ken Scar

Thompson and Zinzow noted that studies like this are important because suicide is one of the leading causes of death among college students in the U.S.

“Heidi and I are really glad that we will be able to focus more attention on this public health problem with Clemson college students through SAMHSA funding,” she said. “One of the goals of the grant is to establish a system in order to better track suicide risk behaviors and attempts. We will be connecting Clemson to a 24/7 crisis hotline through Mental Health America of Greenville County. We also hope to increase the capacity of Clemson’s Counseling and Psychological Services as well as connect with community partners to provide increased access to mental health services.”

Partners in the research include Clemson University Healthy Campus, Student Health Services, Counseling and Psychological Services, Residential Life, the Dean of Students Office and New Student and Family Programs; along with Mental Health America of Greenville County.

Thompson and Zinzow emphasized that preventative strategies will be a prominent focus of the grant work, including improving recognition of suicide risk factors, increasing knowledge of available resources and intervention strategies, and encouraging people who are suffering to seek mental health services. Gatekeeper training will be conducted to increase awareness of risk factors and the numbers of students, staff and faculty who are capable of intervening to prevent suicide.

Thompson and Zinzow will engage in national and local evaluations examining the effectiveness of these prevention strategies.

The grant is named after Garrett Lee Smith,  a 21-year-old college student and the son of Oregon Sen. Gordon H. Smith, who committed suicide in 2003. President George W. Bush signed the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, authorizing $82 million for suicide prevention and awareness programs at colleges, in 2004. It was the first legislation providing funding specifically for youth suicide prevention programs through SAMHSA, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.