Roux Davies

Staff Writer

September is Suicide Prevention Month. To understand what Whittier College is doing for suicide prevention, I have been in contact with staff and students, asking why suicide prevention is so important – especially now.

Suicide is a pressing issue on campuses across America. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center names suicide as “a leading cause of death among college and university students in the United States.” The pandemic has left a lasting impact on rates of suicidal ideation and depression in young adults too. In one CDC survey of 18-24 year olds, 25.5% reported seriously considering suicide within the past month – higher than any other age group. Research from Boston University School of Public Health research shows that over the pandemic rates of depression shifted from 8.5% to a staggering 32.8%.  

To find out what Whittier College is doing in the face of this, I asked Psychologist and Director of the Student Counseling Center, Doctor Rebecca Eberle-Romberger all about suicide prevention. 

Dr. Eberle-Romberger called Suicide Prevention an “incredibly important topic.” She says, “suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the college aged population, taking an estimated 1,100 lives annually (and we are concerned that rate will grow as the impact of the pandemic is fully felt), this is one of the best times to address (and hopefully de-stigmatize the ability to have conversations around) the myths and concerns of suicidal behavior.”  

 I asked Romberger what the college is doing for suicide prevention. She explained, “as a College, I drew attention to this issue several years ago when we brought the QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) suicide awareness training to campus” 

The QPR institute describes their initiative as one, “that reduce[s] suicidal behaviors and save lives by providing innovative, practical, and proven suicide prevention training. The signs of crisis are all around us. We believe that quality education empowers all people, regardless of their background, to make a positive difference in the life of someone they know.” 

QPR is innovative in that it brings the whole community together in working to prevent self-harm and suicide. 

Dr. Eberle-Romberger says, as part of the QPR model, students here at Whittier can get involved in suicide prevention by taking “a one-hour on-line module (free to all of WC with poets email) and results in a certificate (if students are posting these to resume/LinkedIn) or grad apps. More importantly, based on the public health model of QPR, by training more staff, faculty, and students on how to listen and respond to a suicidal crisis, we may be able to save lives!”

Dr Eberle-Romberger continues “[QPR training] is our main focus for September and all Student Life staff, including RA’s have already been trained. If there are student clubs/organizations who would like to do the training together or have a Counseling Center representative to process the training, we are happy to do that as well. The new Peer Health Educators program also includes the QPR training.” 

 This community-led approach to suicide prevention is extremely important because it helps take the strain off of limited health resources, and suicide is an issue that affects all students, especially on a small college campus like this. University of Michigan research shows 25 percent of students know of someone who has taken their own life, and 40 percent know of someone who attempted suicide. Suicide has a ripple effect reaching farther than we might expect. I interviewed a student here at the college, about her experiences after a close friend took her own life. 

 When talking, I asked her how the event still affects her. She said “I had physically shut down, I was completely unresponsive… [now] it’s more like a passing thought like, oh my friend would have loved this, would have loved that”. She continued, “there are a lot of things that I’m not able to do… it can even be sometimes hard to talk about. When other people are talking about these sensitive topics I kind of just sit there in silence because I don’t know how to feel I don’t know how much I should share.”  

She continued to talk about how the experience makes it difficult to have conversations,  

“I kind of feel guilty whenever… people are having a… conversation about death, and I don’t want to be the person that turns around at every single conversation to say ‘can we shut up my friend died?’ There’s a lot of guilt. [I think] I could have done things to prevent this, and due to circumstances at the time I just didn’t.” She concludes, “[o]ne of the people closest to me passing has a lasting impact, yeah it still makes it difficult to talk about. It has gotten easier… it is just always in the back of my brain.” 

 When I asked how important suicide prevention is to her, she replied, “really important. As someone who has not had the full thought, but has definitely done catastrophic thoughts before it’s important to have suicide prevention”. She tells me “[suicide prevention is] a very difficult thing to execute properly… it means a lot to me because most of the times we focus on the action, and not as much the feelings of being put in their shoes. For me it’s about understanding that suicide prevention doesn’t have to be this whole big poster, or a grand gesture of a huge dinner in the upper quad about how ‘we love you so much’ as much as it is for me just sitting down telling people they’re loved.” Hearing how important this is, I ask her what advice she would give to anyone worried about a friend of theirs. She told me, “[if] you’re not close enough to that person, definitely talk about it with someone who’s close to them. If you are close enough, you can sit down and just have that conversation over a cup of cocoa and just reinforce a calm, welcoming environment.”

 The college experience can be a difficult time for many. Homesickness, work-load induced pressure, and managing relationships with friends can all culminate in an emotionally challenging experience. The work done by the counselling center, staff, and students is immensely valuable here on campus. We all struggle from time to time, and it is important that we can all help one another out when we need it. The QPR approach brings the college together as a community, all engaging in the shared effort of suicide and self-harm prevention.  

 If you are struggling or need support contact the counselling center: 

Haverhill A (next to Campus Safety)


562.907.4218 (fax)


For immediate help call 998 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline available 24/7 in English and Spanish


Featured Image Courtesy of  QPRINSTITUTE.COM

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