Next semester, Aggies Reaching Aggies, a new suicide prevention volunteer program, will be making its way to campus.
Aggies Reaching Aggies aspires to spread awareness and break the stigma about suicide through peer education and prevention. As a gatekeeper, student volunteers will be trained to detect when peers are showing suicidal tendencies and properly intervene. Volunteer applications to be a student peer educator for spring 2021 are now open until Dec. 1, and training will begin the week of Jan. 16.
Santana Simple, the assisant director of Couseling and Psychological Services at Texas A&M and overseeer of the Suicide Awareness Office, will supervise the program. Simple will serve as the lead gatekeeper trainer for Aggies Reaching Aggies student volunteers, closely working with the trainees.
“Our trained student volunteers will be teaching other students on how to recognize when other students are in emotional distress or a crisis, and how to properly offer intervention,” Simple said. “Students best learn from other students because they’re actually talking to someone who gets where they’re coming from and knows what they’re going through. Being able to talk to someone, like a peer, will give students more [solace] and opportunity to be more heard.”
Aggies Reaching Aggies will offer two gatekeeping programs provided by the peer educator volunteers. Trained students will also aid in outreach programs surrounding suicide prevention, opening a safe space to start general conversations about suicide prevention and awareness. Volunteers will reach out to other student groups and organizations, offering peer support and communication on topics of suicide to Aggies.
“We wanted to offer our students an opportunity to learn from each other and be a part of preventing suicide,” Simple said. “This new gatekeeper training program will be personable to experiences at A&M. It will be infused with Aggie culture and will capture the college experience.”
Simple said every year in the U.S. there are about 1,100 college students who die by suicide, which averages to about three students a day. The Aggies Reaching Aggies initiative will train students to be aware of signs of someone in distress and so they can utilize their training to intervene, rather than students in distress waiting until it’s too late.
Peer educators will be able to initiate the conversation of suicide and mental health and serve as a bridge to CAPS and other mental health resources.Warren Wright, a professional counselor in CAPS who works closely with Simple in the Suicide Prevention and Awareness Office, is also a trained gatekeeper.
“Gatekeepers will be certified and trained through the office of Suicide Awareness and Prevention,” Wright said. “The training will teach the student volunteers skills on how to question students who are thinking about or contemplating suicide so they can refer them to on campus resources to get professional help.”
Wright also said having certified gatekeeper volunteers will create a sense of camaraderie and connection between students, so they can spread awareness of suicide prevention at a more interpersonal level.
According to the CAPS website, students will complete a comprehensive interview, along with the training, to become a peer educator volunteer. Students of all majors and backgrounds are encouraged to apply.
Wright said he hopes Aggies Reaching Aggies will help to integrate suicide awareness into the educational curriculum at A&M.
“I hope [Aggies Reaching Aggies] will continue to allow peers to be a bridge for others between mental health well being and connections to resources, so that everyone on campus can get properly educated about suicide awareness and prevention,” Wright said.