Operation Bear Hug returns to teach suicide prevention, recognition

Ravyn Cullor

Operation Bear Hug, hosted by the Student Veterans Organization, returned for its third year to teach suicide prevention skills outside the classroom.

The event, which started in 2017, is a 5K obstacle course designed to show participants what kind of struggles a person considering suicide might face and teach them about what resources are available.

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“They will start out as healthy and then they’ll face some struggles,” said SVO Vice President Acacia Mohr. “The team that they’re with has to identify the struggle and learn when to jump in and help.”

Mohr says the event is set up as a 5K because the traditional classroom-setting, powerpoint-centered style of suicide awareness training, which is prominent in the military, isn’t the most effective way for people to learn and understand the issue.

This year 20 teams competed in the event with a range of student organizations as well as local companies. the Les Schwab team won the event and donated their $200 prize to SVO.

Henry Seen, a Colorado State University alumni and one of the founding collaborators for Operation Bear Hug, said in 2018 they were able to measure the success of this teaching style by surveying participants before and after the run.

“Only 10 percent of the people who participated had some knowledge about suicide prevention,” Seen said. “At the end of it, 80 percent of everyone who went through the course were more confident of their skills and knowledge of how to prevent suicide.”

A huge portion that we advocate for is addressing it with somebody. Often time when people are suicidal, they start to get these thoughts in their head and it continues to circulate. It’s the saying ‘hey, are you having suicidal thoughts?’ and allowing them to digress and talk about what they’re feeling.” – Alex Knappe, Operation Bear Hug President

In 2016 two student veterans at CSU along with three 11-year-old children in the community committed suicide, which promoted a university panel and ultimately led to the creation of Operation Bear Hug, Seen says. Seen, along with Josh Fleming and Oren Pierce, saw that classroom style education wasn’t helping people remember suicide prevention resources like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Seen and 2018 Operation Bear Hug President Alex Knappe said it’s not only important that the course teaches what resources are available, but how to identify signs that someone might be suicidal and how to address it.

“A huge portion that we advocate for is addressing it with somebody,” Knappe said. “Often time when people are suicidal, they start to get these thoughts in their head and it continues to circulate. It’s the saying ‘hey, are you having suicidal thoughts?’ and allowing them to digress and talk about what they’re feeling.”

Seen said sometimes dramatic changes in behavior can be very off-putting to busy college students but is often a warning that people can be taught to recognize.

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“It’s like ‘wow, you’re being really difficult right now, I don’t want to be around you,’” Seen said. “But that’s a red flag that says ‘hey, I’m in trouble, I need your help.’”

Being able to talk to someone about potential suicidal thoughts and spreading information about prevention, resources and recognition are both signs of success that the event was looking for. The ultimate goal is to spread the event to other campuses so this style of suicide prevention education is available across the nation.

“If we can save one life, that’s a success, because any life lost is a tragedy,” Seen said.

Ravyn Cullor can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @RCullor99.