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Campus Life + Health & Wellness

Terriers Connect Helps Students in Distress

Trainings for peers scheduled for next week

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Terriers Connect training helped Geraldine Muir to change, or maybe even save, a life, right there in her office. 

“A student came in to speak with me,” says Muir, School of Law associate dean of student affairs, “and she was showing several signs that were covered in the training. She said that she was overwhelmed and had lost hope that things could turn around for her. The ache in her voice led me to ask the question, ‘Are you thinking of killing yourself?’

“We had a moment, and the student paused, and I think made a real decision for herself, and said, ‘Yes.’ I felt incredibly fortunate,” says Muir, who also oversees the LAW registrar’s office. “I used my cell phone to call Behavioral Medicine on speaker. And I ended up deciding to walk the student up there. And she received the resources that she needed, and now has graduated and is working.”

The first person who recognizes that a student is facing mental health issues could be almost anyone. It might be a peer, a faculty member, an RA, a coach, or an administrator. That’s why the Terriers Connect program, run by Behavioral Medicine at Student Health Services (SHS), is designed to help all of the above respond confidently and effectively when they spot a potential problem.

“It’s a suicide prevention program, but it trains people more broadly how to help students in distress,” says Jennifer Durham-Fowler, Behavioral Health associate director of outreach and prevention services. “We want them to feel that it’s applicable for problems from helping a student who’s just gone through a breakup and is having a rough patch up to more serious mental health issues, and everything in between.”

The program is presenting open student trainings next week, one on Monday, October 16, from 5 to 7 p.m., in LAW 212, and one on Thursday, October 19, from 4 to 6 p.m., in CGS 313. Students can register online here.

The BU program, based on the long-running Campus Connect program at Syracuse University, teaches participants to identify students in crisis and how best to guide them to appropriate campus resources. In the two years that Behavioral Health has offered the program, more than 1,000 people have attended one of the two-hour training sessions, which include signs to look for, role-playing, and a focus on empathy. The people who’ve been trained are roughly evenly split between students and faculty or staff, including all RAs, as well as FYSOP student leaders, Residence Life staff, and academic advising network personnel.

Faculty or staff who are interested in attending a training can email tercon@bu.edu.

“What I appreciate about the training is that it recognizes I am not a licensed, trained counselor,” Muir says. Instead, it’s designed for people who aren’t counselors to gain the tools that allow them to recognize when someone does need a trained professional and when they just need an ally to help them sort out their issues.

“You want to concentrate on how they’re feeling,” says Rachel Martin (SPH’18), an SHS Wellness & Prevention graduate assistant, who works with undergraduate Student Health Ambassadors. Martin took the training in August. “Some students are really stressed out about homework or they have this 17-page paper due. You wouldn’t want to concentrate on that so much as what are they doing about feeling stressed, have they talked to anyone about that, and if necessary, go into the deeper questions.”

And when those questions come up, Muir says, it’s part of Terriers Connect training not to ask, ‘Are you thinking of hurting yourself?’ or some other euphemism for suicide, as people typically might, but to ask straight out if they are thinking about killing themselves. And she’s glad she did.

“I’ve done several sessions now as a trainer, and anything I can do to help promote the program, I’m going to do,” Muir says, “because in that one moment, I’m not sure I would have handled it the same way if I had not gone through that training.”

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Joel Brown, writer, BU Today at Boston University
Joel Brown

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@bu.edu.

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