Boise State Dean of Students staff awarded $300K suicide prevention grant

Suicide prevention mural by Ashley Dreyfus
Photo by Claire Keener
Content warning: this article discusses suicide and related topics.

Following yet another grueling, pandemic-ridden year, it was announced that Associate Dean of Students Lauren Oe received a $304,000 grant to further suicide prevention efforts at Boise State.

This three-year grant, which Oe also received in 2018, is funded through the Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) Memorial Act and is “designed to help colleges and universities build capacity and infrastructure to support expanded wellness promotion,” according to Boise State News. 

Michelle Tassinari, outreach and prevention case manager for the Office of the Dean of Students and co-author of the second GLS grant, will be carrying out the grant’s programming and prevention efforts. 

The reacquisition of this grant comes at an imperative time as the coronavirus pandemic fixes to enter its third year. In 2020, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported 420 deaths by suicide, which amounts to a 16% increase from the previous year. 

“I think with COVID, what I’ve noticed is there’s just so much unknown for people that it’s kind of increased their anxieties, and on a biological level, it changes the way our nervous system responds to stress,” Tassinari said. “If we add on a preexisting mental health condition … the triggers are stacked a little bit higher.” 

Suicide prevention mural by Ashley Dreyfus
[Photo of a suicide prevention mural by Dreyfus Art]
Photo by Claire Keener | The Arbiter

According to Lauren Oe, a crucial objective for the 2021 GLS grant will be strengthening immediate support for Boise State students. 

“We didn’t anticipate, much like everybody else, COVID and how that would shift our ability to reach students,” Oe said. “We saw an opportunity to reapply [for the grant] and kind of meet students where they’re at.” 

To localize mental health discussions and suicide prevention efforts within the Boise State campus, the grant will enable a select number of faculty members to participate in training through Mental Health First Aid as part of a new university mental health liaison program, according to Oe and Tassinari. 

“We tend to work in silos here at Boise State, and so it can often feel like student support either lies with counseling services or with the Dean of Students office,” Tassinari said. “Students aren’t dichotomous … we have an opportunity to provide some more holistic student support, and that really starts in the classroom.” 

Other university-led projects aim for a long-term approach towards addressing student mental health.

One initiative being carried out through this grant is establishing Boise State as Idaho’s first JED Campus, a four-year collaborative partnership with the JED Foundation to create a mental health strategic plan for the university. 

“The first year [of the partnership] is really about assessing the landscape — what are students needing, what are those gaps, what are we doing well — then developing some objectives and goals for the university,” Oe said.

Oe and Tassarini believe that the university’s partnership with the JED Foundation can encourage other Idaho schools to launch their own mental health initiatives.

“I think that what the JED Campus will do is communicate to — especially for rural Idaho communities — that it’s okay to have some mental health concerns,” Tassinari said. “I’m hoping it can kind of be a trailblazer for other Idaho universities.” 

Another long-term goal includes expanding Boise State’s counseling center. Additionally, the Associated Students of Boise State University has formed a new mental health committee, which Tassinari will oversee. She hopes the committee can begin discussion on writing legislation and introducing university policy changes that are more supportive of students.

In a concluding statement by Tassinari, she emphasized that students don’t have to be alone in their struggle. There are support systems on campus that will always lend a helping hand.

“I would like to speak directly to the students and just say … you’re supposed to be here. You’re here for a reason, and we want you here,” Tassinari said. “There are people on campus that will sit with you in this pain … sit with you in the discomfort that you’re feeling and lead you through that time. That’s really what I’m here to do. That’s what our counselors on campus … are here to do. So please don’t hesitate to reach out. It’s never too late. We can always problem-solve together.” 

If you or someone you know is experiencing problems with mental health, contact the sources below for additional help and information:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255

Pathways of Idaho Community Crisis Center:  (208) 489-8311

Submit a CARE referral through the Office of the Dean of Students.

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