UT program raises mental health, suicide awareness

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Before the Virginia Tech massacre only one out of five colleges had risk assessment teams -- teams that meet often to review reports on students who seem disturbed.

The University of Tennessee was among that small group, and the group is much larger some one-year after the tragedy at Blacksburg, Va.

UT officials say nothing has changed specifically, but they have beefed up their promotion of the program.

The bottom line with VolAware is to help the university take care of its students. And Captain Keith Lambert says it's a tremendous benefit to UT Police.

"What this committee and this group allows us to do is to get different people involved so there's a sharing of information and everyone has the opportunity to get the person the help that they need."

Lots of different people.

Ron Laffitte is the Associate Dean of Students at the University of Tennessee and says, "It involves folks from our counseling center, police department, residence halls, disability services, the health center, a variety of folks on campus."

This Case Management Team that created VolAware formed a few years ago to assist students at risk and the team meets every week.

UT student Merri Shaffer says, "I think it's very useful because there are a lot of students and kids our age who do have problems and stress."

UT student Justin Groves says, "Tennessee's done a good job, I think personally, of taking care of their students."

And VolAware can help protect students in a way nothing else could with just a simple phone call.

Laffitte says, "We've had a good response from faculty and staff in terms of letting us know about students who may need assistance or help."

Lambert says, "Maybe just an awkward comment or an off hand statement that was made, and it would never be reported to the police, because there may not be anything criminal."

Captain Lambert adds that it's when everybody works together, is when you have the best chance of success. So how is VolAware's success measured?

Laffitte says, "We know that by talking and working with students, they tell us that it's helped them for sure."

Groves says, "Oh, yea. I'd use it definitely if I thought there was a problem."

"VolAware" is mental health awareness, wellness, and suicide prevention.

This protocol for helping distressed students you see here is available on our Web channel at VolunteerTV.com, then click on the hot key.

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