Northampton Community College (NCC) became a PA Department of Education (DOE) Certified Suicide Prevention Institution. Only five colleges in Pennsylvania have submitted mental health and suicide prevention plans that were approved for this designation.
In order to qualify, institutions must have a plan that includes contact information for national, state and local suicide prevention hotlines, crisis intervention and post-intervention follow-up, counseling, mental health provider referrals, mental wellness activities and more. In addition, the counseling department must put out messaging to students to make them aware of these services and resources on a regular basis.
Receiving this certification was part of an overarching mission at NCC. This mission began in 2018 when the mother of an 18-year-old NCC student who passed from suicide came to speak to one of the counseling staff. She expressed interest in advocacy efforts for other students who may be experiencing mental distress. “This coupled with seeing the rise of suicide to the second leading cause of death among college students, motivated us to do more. That’s when the Suicide Prevention Task Force was created, which morphed into THRIVE, NCC’s Mental Wellness Alliance,” says Dr. Eric Rosenthal, dean of student success and retention.
Annually, the DOE website lists any institutions of higher education that implement approved plans at their campus and site locations. Rep. Mike Schlossberg, who is an advocate for mental health and wellness, sent a letter to NCC urging the college to become a DOE Certified Suicide Prevention Institution of Higher Education. Sarah Stone and Andrea Marcolla, both counselors at NCC’s Monroe and Bethlehem Campuses respectively, wrote the suicide prevention plan to submit to the DOE with the help of other members of the counseling team and THRIVE. That plan served as the application to becoming certified.
In the spring of 2020, President of NCC, Dr. Mark Erickson submitted to the DOE. One semester later, the college was celebrating this state level distinction that covers all sites and locations at NCC.
The biggest benefit is increased awareness and credibility for NCC counseling services. “Students, staff and faculty who become aware of this designation can see the value and legitimacy in our department. We are hoping that this will increase the likelihood of students seeking us out,” Rosenthal explains. “People feeling like they’re in good hands. They can come to us and trust us.”
The plan compiles the information students and our NCC family need in one place. NCC’s mental health/suicide prevention plan includes four main parts: suicide prevention, destigmatizing mental illness, increasing help-seeking, and promoting mental wellness. Marcolla feels, “the fact that we’re even talking about suicide and de-stigmatizing it, is a huge accomplishment for NCC. Sometimes, there’s a fear around talking about it. There’s a myth that if you talk about it, it’s going to happen. This distinction means, as a whole, NCC, is working to prevent suicide and confronting the myths that hinder individuals from accessing help.”
On campus, resident assistants and public safety officers are trained and re-trained periodically in suicide prevention allowing them to conduct an initial assessment and assist in an emergency. Trained counselors and NCC faculty with the required certification offer this type of training to all departments on any campus or site location at the college called QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) where they become “gatekeepers” to detect individuals at risk for suicide and question them if they are perceived to be in distress, persuade them to get help and refer them to the right people. NCC has trained over 200 students, faculty and staff already using QPR.
“It’s important for our students to be aware that we are here for them, and they should have no shame. Some students feel hopeless, and this may show them that they can have hope. We have the ability to help them and even find additional help. With Monroe county being a rural county, there’s a lack of knowledge. What can I do? Where can I go? This plan is invaluable in that sense,” says Stone.
NCC counselors keep regular on campus and remote hours daily, but for the 24/7 availability, the college supplements with community resources available to students such as crisis numbers to call or text, warning sign and risk factor detection, access to treatment and services, resources for survivors of suicide and support groups for mental health and more available in their plan and on the website. The counseling services page provides free anonymous mental health screenings as well.
NCC must submit an updated plan yearly to maintain certification as a Suicide Prevention Institution. “We are glad that we have to make changes and updates yearly because we can change our plan to meet the changing needs of our students and add resources to this evolving document. We can add COVID specific resources this year because when we submitted, the pandemic was just beginning,” says Marcolla. “There’s always more work to do, and we can collaborate with our colleagues in the field at other certified institutions for help and for continuing adaptions.”
No one will ever be turned down by any NCC counselor if in crisis. Please visit the counseling services website and click on the Suicide Prevention Plan (PDF) for information on preventing suicide and other resources.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact: 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.