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Seton Hill University aims for suicide prevention

| Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014, 11:15 p.m.

Seton Hill University students who visit the health office for a cough or some other minor malady might come away with lifesaving awareness.

The school in Greensburg, in cooperation with Westmoreland Behavioral Health and Development Services and others, began this fall using an online program aimed at preventing suicides.

A student receiving counseling, health services or disability services may voluntarily take the computer-based survey, which asks questions and screens for such risk factors as depression, anxiety, eating disorders or substance abuse, said Terri Bassi-Cook, university director of counseling, disability and health service.

The involved health professional receives the results of the survey and can recommend further treatment, Bassi-Cook explained.

University officials focused on suicide prevention because of the high rate among children and young adults.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It's an alarming statistic for people in this age group,” Bassi-Cook said.

Nearly 40,000 people annually commit suicide, according to the federal agency, ranking it as the 10th leading cause of death in 2010.

In Westmoreland County, 55 people committed suicide in 2013, six of them in the 18- to 24-year-old age range, according to the county coroner's office.

In 2010 through 2012 in the county, 133 people committed suicide, seven in the 18-24 range, the statistics showed.

Seton Hill appears to be the first university in Western Pennsylvania to use the online survey, which takes up to 15 minutes to complete, Bassi-Cook said. A few universities and colleges in Eastern Pennsylvania use the program.

Seton Hill's program is funded through a grant that comes to Westmoreland County through the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act. Smith, son of former Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, committed suicide in 2011 at 21.

Asking whether a person has considered or attempted suicide “is so key,” said Renee Raviart Dadey, children services coordinator for the county behavioral health and development office.

“Seton Hill is the first higher-education school in the county to do this, so they're a trailblazer in so many ways,” she said.

About 200 students have taken the survey, Bassi-Cook said.

She was unable to say how many went on for further treatment.

“This survey system provides us with an important tool to understand better particular circumstances our students may be feeling,” university President Mary C. Finger said.

Bassi-Cook knew of two Seton Hill students who committed suicide, in the 1970s and the '90s.

Students can get self-help material “to get them engaged in counseling services to help them with a particular behavior,” Bassi-Cook said.

“For so many people contemplating suicide, hearing a friendly voice say, ‘You're not alone; let's talk about this,' can make all the difference,” Dadey said.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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