Southern Utah University (SUU) recently launched the Care and Support Team (CAST). Members of CAST are trained faculty and staff committed to creating an environment to support students struggling with emotional distress and mental health issues. The mission is to promote student resiliency by providing a visible network of support on campus for students who are experiencing isolation, sadness, fear, anxiety, or other forms of emotional distress.
“We hope to end the stigma associated with mental health related issues, especially suicide,” said Jayci Bash, associate director of the honors program and the co-founder of CAST. "We want to create a strong community that supports students and each other. We want to make sure students never feel alone and always feel that they belong at SUU.”
After learning about a tragic suicide of an SUU student last fall, Bash asked herself if she was doing everything she could to make sure her students knew she was available to support them outside of the classroom. “The answer, unfortunately, was no,” Bash confessed.
For a week following the incident Bash talked to every class she taught about suicide. By sharing her personal stories about losing loved ones to suicide and having experienced suicidal thoughts herself, she opened up a dialogue that students engaged in.
“I received a message from one of my students telling me that they were struggling with thoughts of suicide,” said Bash. “The student was in counseling and wanted me to know that the discussion we had in class saved their life.”
This experience blew Bash away. She never dreamed that being open about mental health issues with her students would result in such a direct and positive response. She wondered what would happen if more faculty and staff engaged in similar, open conversations with their students. With the help of Assistant Professor of Geology and CAST Co-founder, Dr. Johnny MacLean, CAST was born.
“We’ve heard back from trained professors who have reported positive results, saying that because of CAST training they were better equipped to help students,” said MacLean.
SUU employees that are CAST members receive a sticker to put on their office door, a shirt and an explanation to include in their syllabus about their openness to helping students. CAST also hosts social events and reading groups. The meetings offer an environment for anyone interested, not just CAST members, to discuss pertinent topics that affect students. Topics have included PTSD, anxiety, millennials, academic rigor, and sexualized violence.
“These group meetings have changed my perception of what education is,” said MacLean. “When I first arrived at SUU I thought it was all about skills and content. Now I understand it’s about building relationships. We may not remember everything we were taught, but we do remember the individuals who most influenced us.”
Members of CAST work alongside students who are experiencing difficult circumstances such as sexual assault, death of a loved one, suicidal thoughts, health issues, and financial issues. CAST members do not counsel students, but are trained to support them. CAST training educates and empowers members to support students while maintaining appropriate personal, professional, and legal boundaries. CAST offers three types of trainings: Core trainings teach how to help and listen, QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) is suicide prevention training, and Title IX training includes instruction on legal regulations. CAST is currently working with other partners such as the Office of Student Affairs to design additional types of trainings in spring 2017. The program has trained 100 people in its first year.
“Most often, all I need to do is listen and that’s enough for the student to hold on to hope and continue to seek the resources needed to succeed,” explained Bash. “People interested in being CAST members need to be open and willing to support students in their world of emotions. Creating a real connection with our students is one of the most rewarding elements of working in higher education.”
CAST actively partners with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for all of their trainings. CAPS is staffed with experienced licensed mental health professionals including psychologists, social workers, and mental health counselors who work with students to reduce the interference of everyday stress and also treat more serious conditions.
For more information about CAST email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about CAPS call (435) 865-8621 or stop by their office located at 136 W University Blvd. (Center St.).