Seton Hill University is partnering with Westmoreland County and area mental health providers to implement a suicide prevention project that screens young people for risk behaviors for suicide.

Seton Hill began the program this fall as a result of a grant received by Westmoreland County through the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act in 2011. The University is the first organization in Westmoreland County to implement this program, which screens students who come to receive counseling, health services or disability services using a computer-based survey system. The survey also screens for risk factors for eating disorders, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other issues.

“Seton Hill is committed to being a place where our students are well cared for and safe,” said Mary C. Finger, Ed.D., University President. “This survey system provides us with an important tool to understand better particular circumstances our students may be experiencing. We thank the Westmoreland Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Office and our community partners for helping us implement this program that will complement Seton Hill’s counseling, disability and health services department.”

“Seton Hill University is a trailblazer in Westmoreland County in adopting the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act suicide prevention screening initiative,” said Renee Raviart Dadey, Children’s Services Coordinator for the Westmoreland Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Office. “For so many people contemplating suicide, hearing a friendly voice saying, ‘You’re not alone. Let’s talk about this,’ can make all the difference. By screening students for risk factors and offering help and hope, Seton Hill is making a huge impact on the lives of students who might feel isolated and alone. That could be the difference between someone going through with suicide or stopping them in their tracks."

Terri Bassi-Cook, Director of Counseling, Disability and Health Services at Seton Hill, said county officials approached her earlier this year about implementing the screening at the University since the student population falls into the risk age for suicide. Westmoreland County had received funds to implement the program locally through grant money received by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through the federal Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If our students are at risk for suicide, we want to know that, and we want to be able to help them get assistance and find the resources that they need,” Bassi-Cook said. “This screening tool allows us to reach more students than the ones who are already coming to us for counseling. Now, if a student comes to the Wellness Center for a physical illness, comes to discuss disability accommodations or comes for counseling or alcohol and drug services, they are asked to take the short survey on an iPad. The results are reported to me as well as the staff member working directly with the student, and we are able to then open up a dialogue and help them schedule follow-up services either at the University or with one of our partner agencies in the community.”

Before implementing the program, Seton Hill’s staff met with representatives from Westmoreland County Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, Mental Health America of Westmoreland County, Excela Health’s Crisis Response Center and the Westmoreland Community Action Crisis Hotline and Crisis Mobile Service to determine best practices in referring students in emergency situations to outside agencies for assistance.

“The stakeholders were on board from the beginning,” Dadey said. “We wanted all the agencies to be aware that Seton Hill would be conducting this screening and may be identifying students in need of outside help.”

The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act was ratified and signed into law in 2004, and grantees have been funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration since 2005. Grantees are funded for three years to implement best practice suicide prevention programs among youth ages 10-24 at the campus, state or tribal level. The Act is named for Garett Lee Smith, son of Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, who introduced the legislation shortly after Garrett died by suicide at age 21.