Preventing Suicide on Campus

Courtesy of Rock Creek Productions, Inc.

By Renee Rasmussen

September is nationally recognized as suicide prevention month. The Catholic University of America is doing its part to contribute to the cause by promoting its own Suicide Prevention Lab (SPL). 

Dr. David Jobes, a professor of psychology at Catholic and Associate Director of Clinical Training, directs the Suicide Prevention Lab held in O’Boyle. 

“The SPL is a research lab in the Psychology Department that pursues research broadly in suicide prevention with a major focus on clinical suicide prevention,” said Jobes. 

This research lab focuses on preventing suicide in many populations including college students. Centered around the approach of the Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS), developed by Jobes, the work done in O’Boyle is patient-centered, focused on keeping the patient away from hospitalization wherever safe and possible. It is suicide treatment based solely on the patient, unlike the other more popular treatments that Jobes and his team have proved to be less successful. 

“The SPL has even changed the way the counseling center treats suicidal patients on campus,” Jobes commented. 

“The CUA Counseling Center still uses the assessment aspects that were originally developed when I worked in the Counseling Center,”Jobes said . “But the CUA Suicide Prevention Lab is now involved in national and international research. CAMS is now used around the world as an evidence-based intervention supported by extensive clinical research that is conducted in the CUA SPL.” 

As one of the largest labs on campus, the SPL has many student workers all working together on collaborative projects at several other hospitals, universities and clinical trials. 

All of this work being done in O’Boyle is being done to save lives. Through their work and effort into CAMS, Jobes and his team have provided an alternative method of treating suicidal patients, in a way that is centered on the client’s needs.

“[CAMS] is very patient-centric,” said Jobes. “We emphasize empathy, collaboration, honesty, and the importance of attending to the patient’s reasons for considering suicide, which we target and treat within the CAMS framework. CAMS is a least restrictive, cost-effective, treatment that patients like it more than usual care, and it has been proven to work in replicated randomized controlled trials in studies in the US and around the world.”

Whereas the typical method of treating suicidal patients is through medicine and/or hospitalization, CAMS focuses on patient-recognized “drivers” that cause the patient to turn to the drastic measure of suicide. Typically, patients define their drivers as relationship issues (i.e a bad breakup or divorced parents) or for students specifically academic challenges. The common factor with these drivers is they are “issues of the self” and such things medicine cannot fix. The push for medication and hospitalization seems to come from the typical method of treating the patient’s depression to get rid of the risk of suicide, but with CAMS, suicide is the sole focus. 

What seems to make CAMS such a success is the patient is fully involved in the whole process. In the beginning of treatment the patient sits down with the doctor and fills out a Sucicude Status Form, determining reasons for wanting to live (ranging from “for parents” to “seeing the end of Breaking Bad”) reasons for not wanting to live, and other factors that may contribute to the patient’s suicidal tendencies. Then together the patient and the doctor create a treatment to help the patient have resources or tasks, which could include journaling, taking a walk, or watching Breaking Bad. During therapy, the patient and doctor even sit side by side showing the client is in complete power during this process and establishes a relationship between patient and doctor that can help throughout treatment.


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