Established three years ago by George Mason University’s Counseling and Psychological Services as a community outreach program, Mason Cares offers gatekeeper training programs to help participants learn the warning signs for suicide and how to respond.

“Our psychological services help students in dealing with problems that get in the way of them being a satisfied student,” said Associate Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Adrienne Barna.

George Mason University’s Counseling and Psychological Services offers a variety of resources for students, including Learning Services to improve academic skills and Multicultural Services to provide support for individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds.

“The program gives an understanding of suicide,” Barna said. “It is a two-hour training program on strategies of suicide, how to deal with suicide, why people attempt suicide and how to respond to a person in crisis.”

Workshops are run by one of CAPS’ 16 counselors. While Mason Cares offers workshops for individuals, they are usually scheduled for whole groups.

“We have a better outcome if we can schedule the workshops for an organization or group,” Barna said.

“The Peer Empowerment Program, the Living Learning Communities and LEAD are a few organizations which have participated in the workshop. Resident advisors are required to go through the workshop as well.”

Jasmine Smith, a senior communication major, became a resident advisor in August of 2010 and went through the program.

“Since the Mason Cares program has been established it has always been required for all [RAs],” Smith said. “Each new RA goes through the program, and refresher workshops are put into place for returning RAs.”

RAs participate in Behind Closed Doors, a housing program that prepares them for a variety of scenarios involving campus housing and students, like party rooms and arguments.

“During Behind Closed Doors, I was approached by an RA acting as a suicidal student,” Smith said. “I had to react and respond to this person in crisis. Without the Mason Cares workshop, I would have had no idea how to respond. The workshop forces you to think about and acknowledge topics that not everyone is comfortable with.”

Smith and other RAs are provided with a number of brochures and packets to help offer additional support for suicidal students.

“I think the program is great,” Smith said. “It is very structured and each instructor has a binder that they stick to because they want to make sure that each group has the same information. This is important because as an RA, we don’t want to have conflicting information.”

The Mason Cares workshops are based on Campus Connect, an experiential approach to suicide training developed at Syracuse University.

“We want all students to go through the training, because students go to other students when feeling suicidal,” Barna said.

CAPS provides services Monday through Friday, and 24-hour emergency numbers are available to students in crisis. Discussions at CAPS will not show up on academic records, nor can counselors discuss the information with others. The only exception is situations in which a student causes harm to oneself or others.

Students can make appointments at the CAPS office in Student Union Building I, Room 3129. To learn more about Mason Cares or to schedule a program for a specific group or organization, contact Barna at 703-993-2380.