Professor aims to prevent suicide with open dialogue and training

portrait
Laura Gallo, photo by Carrie Quinney.

Laura Gallo, an assistant professor in counselor education at Boise State University, wants to talk about suicide. Every 12 minutes someone in the U.S. takes their own life. Because of societal shame around suicide, for the past year Gallo has been on a mission to break the stigma, teach community members and authorities to recognize risk factors, and be brave enough ask the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide rates have consistently increased in the U.S. over the past 10 years. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for the general population and the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24. National survey results indicate that for every completed suicide, there are 25 attempts.

“Suicide rates continue to rise and without more awareness, education and prevention, we will continue to lose our loved ones to a preventable problem,” said Gallo.

Within the counseling profession, Gallo’s research has shown that suicide often does not get the attention its devastating outcome warrants. In 2018, Gallo conducted a content analysis to discover how many articles on suicide have been published in professional counseling journals over the past 20 years. She found that less than 1 percent of published articles were related to suicide. An important aspect within the counseling field is raising awareness; yet there is a lack of focus on suicide within the counseling profession.

Gallo intends to change that. In addition to her research on suicide, she conducts evidence-based trainings developed by professionals in suicide prevention. Gallo has conducted 12 trainings in 2019 on and off the Boise State campus, with ongoing plans for more.

Her trainings are for 911 dispatchers, student teachers, medical students, faculty at Boise State, practicing school counselors and other individuals she calls “gatekeepers.” Gatekeepers often are on the front lines of suicide prevention because of the people with whom they are in contact, including students and individuals in emergency situations.

“The trainings are based on informing participants about warning signs and risk factors, to help identify people who may be struggling with mental health issues, and how they can step in and get people who are struggling to the right help,” said Gallo. “These trainings are an opportunity to gain the confidence to ask a really hard question, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’”

According to Gallo, an unwillingness to ask that question stems from the potential helper’s own discomfort. But for sufferers, it can be a huge relief to be able to share those thoughts with someone. People contemplating suicide often have been suffering and thinking about suicide for a much longer period of time than a potential helper realizes. Sharing their burden can be the first step to getting help.

“If you put yourself in their shoes, consider what it would feel like for someone to care enough to ask you,” Gallo said.

Gallo’s next training session will be held in January for Boise State teacher education students in their student teaching semester. For more information about the training sessions, contact Gallo at lauragallo@boisestate.edu.