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Increasing Awareness Around Mental Health

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Theresa Ahrens

News  •
Campus Life  •
More than 1,000 backpacks are displayed in the Driscoll Student Center representing college students lost to suicide.
More than 1,000 backpacks are displayed in the Driscoll Student Center representing college students lost to suicide.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among college students, and the stigma associated with mental health concerns is one reason many don’t get the help they need. The University of Denver is committed to raising awareness around mental health concerns and encourages our community to have open dialogue around these issues in hopes of breaking down the stigma and preventing suicides.

During April 3 – 7, 2017, the University will host a mental health awareness week, including a Mental Health Festival, on Thursday, April 6. Activities throughout the week are hosted by the Division of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence; the Health and Counseling Center; DU Mind, a student-led awareness and advocacy organization; and the DU Mental Health Task Force, a 30-member interdisciplinary team with representation from a variety of campus constituencies and disciplinary areas.

Send Silence Packing

On March 28, in an effort to raise awareness, DU’s Mental Health Task Force brought Send Silence Packing, a nationally recognized traveling exhibit, to campus. The exhibit featured more than 1,000 donated backpacks representing college students lost to suicide each year. First unveiled in 2008, this exhibit makes about 20 college and university visits annually. The visit to DU was its first-ever stop in Colorado.

“One in ten college students seriously considers attempting suicide. That is why we brought Send Silence Packing (SSP) to the University of Denver campus,” said Leisha Chiles, a fourth-year PsyD student and graduate assistant for the DU Suicide Prevention Project. “The SSP event this past Tuesday is one of many awareness events the DU Mental Health Task Force has planned. Our goal is to take a comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention on campus, establishing consistent use of comprehensive crisis management, eliminating service gaps for high-risk groups, increasing help-seeking behavior among students in need, increasing the ability of the campus community to identify and support at-risk students, and promoting student connectedness to each other and DU.”

DU mental health experts understand that support is also necessary at the employee level. Services are available to faculty and staff through the Employee Assistance Program. Additionally, both Chancellor Rebecca Chopp and Shelly Smith-Acuna, dean of the Graduate School of Professional Psychology, recently pledged to foster a culture at DU that supports mental health awareness. The pledge — a partnership with AllHealth Network of Denver — states that the University agrees to support efforts to destigmatize mental health issues, ensure all employees have access to training, education and resources for mental health support, and encourage employees to seek treatment when needed.


Beyond Mental Health Awareness week, DU is comprehensively providing mental health education, research and clinical services across more than a dozen disciplines. One of those areas is the Sturm Specialty in Military Psychology, which trains doctoral students in the science of military psychology to assess and treat service members, veterans, and their families before issues arise and after behavioral health problems emerge.“The University of Denver is proud to educate our community and help build awareness around mental and behavioral health disorders,” said Chopp. “Research shows that people are often afraid to ask for help because of the stigma associated with seeking treatment. At DU we aim to educate our entire community that talking openly about mental and behavioral health is critical to breaking down misconceptions and getting access to help.”

Clinical Asst. Prof. Jacob Hyde
Clinical Asst. Prof. Jacob Hyde

Jacob Hyde, faculty director of the Sturm Specialty in Military Psychology, said, “As a country, we have been continuously engaged in warfighting since 2001 and show very few signs of drawing down. With over 1.5 million Americans currently serving on active duty and 416,000 veterans in Colorado, there is a tremendous need for individuals and programs that can increase the functioning and quality of life within service members and veterans.”

Hyde added that at DU, there are several current service members and veterans from multiple militaries across the world who excel academically, are civic-minded, and provide leadership within various communities and organizations. On occasion, they have particular needs that require a different approach from faculty, staff and other students. Thus, the Sturm Specialty is working within the DU community to engage everyone on campus in how best to support and interact with these individuals.

In addition to education and services for service members and veterans, the University of Denver is eager to increase access to underserved populations and provide care and research expertise to the many people impacted by mental health concerns, including cancer patients and caregivers, trauma and disaster survivors, athletes, children and families.

“We are changing the dialogue around mental and behavioral health and, in the process, are supporting our mission to advance the public good,” said Chopp. “Together we can break down the stigmas that keep individuals and communities from becoming healthier.”

For more resources and information about suicide prevention, please visit DU's Health and Counseling Center website.

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