UCF Expands Healthy Knights Programs

UCF Expands Healthy Knights Programs

Counseling and Psychology Services will deploy an array of advanced suicide-prevention and outreach services this month as part of the Healthy Knights 2020 initiative.

HK2020 is a comprehensive set of health and wellness benchmarks that Student Development and Enrollment Services hopes to achieve throughout campus by 2020. It sets goals in categories such as nutrition and physical activity, substance abuse, sleep, sexual health, violence and injury prevention, and mental health and health disorders.

CAPS’ contribution is made possible in part thanks to a $302,000 Garret Lee Smith Suicide Prevention grant. Teresa Michaelson-Chmelir, the associate director and outreach director at CAPS, said the grant will enable her department to purchase and fund several new tools and programs to assist LGTBQ students and student veterans, two populations at a statistically higher risk for suicide.

“We knew, with the Veterans Academic Resource Center here, that we wanted to prepare for a lot of the veterans who were returning to campus and trying to reintegrate into civilian life,” Michaelson-Chmelir said. “A lot of our students also identify as part of the LGBTQ population — so making sure our students and our faculty and staff are aware of some of the issues that these populations might be facing was important to us.”

The grant, which will be disbursed in yearly installments throughout its three-year term, represents more than a threefold increase in the department’s annual suicide prevention outreach budget. That funding will be used to bolster the department’s gatekeeper model of outreach, which focuses on teaching members of the community how to recognize and respond to signs of psychological stress. Last year, CAPS aided 4,446 clients in a clinical setting and reached 26,120 students as part of its outreach efforts.

“The whole gatekeeper model is about educating the person around a topic, whether that’s about intervention, alcohol abuse, gambling – anything, really – and you train them on how to recognize when someone is in distress, and then you give them the tools to show them how to intervene and how to persuade and refer that person to seek help,” Michaelson-Chmelir said.

The first major purchase the department plans to make are two modules from the program KOGNITO, a suite of interactive, online tools that walk users through social situations they’re likely to encounter, whether they’re veterans reintegrating to civilian life or teachers seeking to recognize signs of emotional distress in their students.

“KOGNITO will take participants and walk them through different scenarios, such as how professors engage with students, how to have a conversation with someone in distress, how to engage with someone from LGBTQ or veteran populations who could be at risk,” Michaelson-Chmelir said. “The great part is that this program is very transferable. Any of the skills learned through those programs can be really generalized and applied to other populations as well.”

In addition to KOGNITO, CAPS will certify five new QPR trainers per year. QPR, which stands for Question, Persuade and Refer, is a system that allows trainees to recognize and engage with students who might be suffering from anxiety, depression or other psychological issues.

“Question, Persuade and Refer educates an audience on how to talk to someone, to question them in a way that will open up conversation,” Michaelson-Chmelir said. “A person will feel more comfortable sharing if they’re in any kind of stress or feeling distressed, and if they do, we can persuade them to seek help and refer them to services on campus.”

Other events CAPS plans on funding include the Healthy Knights Expo, a large-scale collaborative event with different health and wellness services on campus; an Out of the Darkness walk, which brings awareness to suicide prevention; and a number of veteran’s readiness kits, which contain informational brochures on how to adjust to civilian life, resiliency and how best to access support on campus and in the community.