Social work program receives prestigious Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Grant

The Marshall University Department of Social Work and its Master of Social Work program have been awarded a three-year grant at $102,000 per year for the Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) Suicide Prevention Grant.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) GLS Campus Suicide Prevention Grant is a direct result of The Garrett Lee Smith Act, a federally-funded suicide prevention program originating from Senator Gordon and Sharon Smith, who lost their son to suicide 13 years ago. The purpose of this program is to facilitate a comprehensive public health approach to prevent suicide in institutions of higher education, according to Paula Rymer, principal investigator for the grant and instructor in the social work department.

"The grant is designed to assist colleges and universities in building essential capacity and infrastructure to support expanded efforts to promote wellness and help-seeking of all students. Additionally, this grant will offer outreach to vulnerable students, including those experiencing substance abuse and mental health problems who are at greater risk for suicide and suicide attempts," Rymer said.

The 2015-2016 Public Directors’ Survey of the Association of University and College Counseling Center Directors reported that among college students who seek counseling, anxiety was the most predominant and increasing concern (50.6%); followed by depression (41.2%); relationship concerns (34.4%); suicidal ideation (20.5%); self-injury (24.2%); and alcohol abuse (9.5%). In addition, the 2016 Healthy Minds Study (HMS) indicated that 36% of college students report having at least one mental health diagnosis, and data from the National Collegiate Health Assessment (NCHA) 2016 Executive Summary demonstrated that 10.4% of students seriously considered suicide any time within the last twelve months and 1.9% attempted suicide within the same time period. Rymer said this grant was developed with these concerning statistics in mind.

"Suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals 14 to 24 years of age. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that death rates among those 15 to 24 years of age are going up – for example, for young males the rate went from 16.8 per 100,000 in 1999 to 18.2 in 2014, and in females from 3.0 to 4.6," Rymer said.

Rymer has previously worked with the GLS state grant in Kentucky as the postsecondary suicide prevention co-coordinator. Rymer’s daughter, Alycen, died by suicide as a student at Eastern Kentucky University in 2004. Rymer says her daughter has served as motivation for her work with the University of Kentucky’s College of Social Work and its Military Suicide Consortium Grant under the direction of Dr. Julie Cerel, president of the American Association of Suicidology.

The grant project was funded from September 30, 2018 until September 29, 2021 under the title "Marshall University SPEAC: Suicide Prevention and Education Across Campus." The agency award number is 1H79SM080445.

To learn more about the research opportunities and grant-funded projects in the Department of Social Work, contact Rymer by e-mail at or visit