10:01 AM

Ohio State suicide prevention program continues to grow, teach

Jared Weist has taken The Ohio State University’s REACH program three times and he wants his classmates to do the same. He knows the program can help save a life.

REACH is the name of the university’s unique suicide prevention training program. The goal is to help prevent suicide by teaching students, faculty and staff the risks, the warning signs, and how to intervene.

“It’s really building a toolkit to be able to do your best to help someone else feel heard,” Weist said.

Weist, a third-year material science and engineering major, has been involved in the university’s Residence Life program since he started at Ohio State. He started as an office assistant and now is a resident adviser at Blackburn House.

Weist was encouraged to take the REACH training program as an office assistant. The 90-minute workshop is designed to help the Ohio State community prevent suicide by teaching faculty, staff and students how to:

  • Recognize warning signs
  • Engage with empathy
  • Ask directly about suicide
  • Communicate hope
  • Help suicidal individuals to access care and treatment

The experience helped him understand the challenges he was going through at the time.

“As soon as I dove into the discussion and actually learned about [suicide prevention] and saw how much of it really applied to my own life, really saw how it connected to my own struggles and the struggles of the people around me in high school, it really resonated with me,” he said.

The training has proved useful. Weist said he has used it to help students who were in trouble and didn’t know where to turn.

“When I have been connected with these students who are really out on a limb by themselves, without much support, I’ve been able to use the REACH class to get to their feelings and to make them feel heard,” he said. “Because the most common thing that I’ve seen is that people feel so alone and they don’t realize that other people feel as similar as they do.”

While the program predates the university’s recent Suicide and Mental Health Task Force, it aids the mission of building a caring community at Ohio State. The task force report recommended continuing to build a “culture of care” on campus that finds ways to minimize psychological harm to students and encourages students, faculty and staff to look out for one another.

Laura Lewis, assistant director of Ohio State’s suicide prevention program, manages REACH. Said the training program confronts a complex topic in a way that makes it easier to understand.

“Because we’re trying to create this culture of care, this community of care, we prefer to do our trainings in a way that creates an environment … where it feels non-judgmental,” Lewis said. “It feels like you could ask questions, it feels like you’re not alone and you don’t feel dumb. The curriculum is designed in a way to debunk myths but it’s also designed in such a way to inspire conversation.”

One of the keys to inspiring that conversation is the program’s peer-to-peer education model. In each training session, students teach students and graduate students, faculty and staff train their peers.

Lewis said each new trainer goes through a rigorous training process and always works with an experienced partner for the presentations.

So far, more than 16,000 students, faculty and staff have participated in REACH classes. Lewis said they typically train 2,500 people per semester. They expect and want the numbers to continue to grow.

While the training is not mandatory, Lewis said she wants to see more members of the Ohio State community sign up because suicide is preventable.

“The training is meant to dispel some fears. Your job is not to solve the problem. Your job is to be the bridge to get that person to the person who can solve the problem,” she said. “We’re not asking you to be counselors. That’s not at all what this is about. We have those people and they’re great at what they do, but this is about you noticing something’s off and everybody can do that.”

To learn more or to sign up for a training session, click here to go to the Ohio State Suicide Prevention Program website.

For help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255/TALK (or 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish speakers). To reach someone at Ohio’s 24/7 Crisis Text Line, send 4HOPE to 741741.