The impact of suicide prevention gatekeeper training on Resident Assistants
Swanbrow Becker, Martin Alan
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College student suicide is a significant concern on university campuses and suicide prevention has become a focus for outreach intervention. While college counseling centers appear effective in helping students who present for treatment, suicidal students also seem to underutilize professional help. Gatekeeper training programs have emerged to help colleges and universities tap into existing student social networks to encourage early intervention. Gatekeeper training is a type of suicide prevention intervention used to encourage members of the university community to identify, engage, and refer suicidal students to professional help. Resident Assistants are often a focus of such training as they exist in the living environment of students and may be more able to identify student distress than other staff. However, the potential for adverse mental health impact on those RAs we call upon to help is not well understood and no studies to date have examined the impact of suicide prevention training on their mental health. Using data from surveys administered in connection with the participation of Resident Assistants in Suicide Prevention Training at The University of Texas at Austin, this study explores the mental health impact on RAs associated with their serving as gatekeepers. Multiple regression analyses were used to study the impact of intervention load, perceived role responsibility, the acquisition of suicide prevention content knowledge and perceived competency to perform the duties of a gatekeeper, and support-seeking behavior on the stress and distress of RAs over the course of a semester. Results suggest that RAs appear resilient to situational stress experienced with resident mental health interventions. RAs also appear to have considerable prior, personal experience with suicidal thinking and others who are suicidal. Additionally, they generally report not seeking support as often as they could, yet also increasingly turn to their co-workers in residence life for support. A repeated measures ANOVA analysis found that over the course of the semester RAs reported an increased threshold for engaging in interventions with residents and for seeking support for themselves. Implications for gatekeeper training and future research are discussed.