BSW student helps launch Students Tide Against Suicide

By David Miller 

Feb. 19, 2021

A white woman holds a canvas portrait while posing for a photo outdoors
Ashlyn Neal holds a picture of her late mother, Jessica Key.

September 2019 is a month Ashlyn Neal will never forget.  

Her mother, Jessica Key, died by suicide at age 40. Then, two weeks later, one of Neal’s classmates took their own life.  

“If you’re someone who’s never experienced that, it’s not something that crosses your mind,” Neal said. “It’s still confusing to me.” 

Grieving and coping with the loss of family and friends can include a matrix of health and wellness routines, along with talking through one’s grief, according to For Neal, a senior BSW student and former nursing major, finding students on campus who share her story became a priority.    

Neal would eventually find Tide Against Suicide, a campus suicide prevention initiative organized by the UA Counseling Center. The initiative offers trainings and resources and is rooted in the international Zero Suicide Initiative, but Neal and a handful of students wanted to do more to engage students on campus. So, in early 2020, Neal and four of her UA classmates formed “Students Tide Against Suicide,” a branch of the larger campus initiative that will focus exclusively on anti-suicide awareness, programming and training for UA students.  

The group grew to more than 30 members in Fall 2020, mostly through word-of-mouth advertising and through affiliations to other campus organizations. Students Tide Against Suicide launched its first social media account in the middle of the fall semester.  

“We’ve invited members to join based on their unique situations,” Neal said. “We have so many people from all walks of life join, share their stories and give their views on what they want our group to be.” 

Neal serves as secretary for Students Tide Against Suicide. She said four of the five group officers have lost either friends or family to suicide. And while their circumstances and experiences are different, their shared grief and motivations power a “sense of community,” Neal said.  

“I wanted to be a part of starting a conversation of helping to prevent other cases,” she said. “I wanted to make people stop asking, ‘what could I have done?’ I wanted to be the difference.”  

Starting those conversations has been challenging, as COVID-19 has limited in-person meetings and events that are staples for their outreach plans. Their events are aimed at being flexible and unique, from offering Question, Persuade, Refer training – which helps people recognize warning signs of a suicide crisis and provide early intervention – to relaxation and de-stress events.  

Neal says the group’s limitations due to health and safety protocols were “a little discouraging” early in 2020, particularly in keeping members, campus and the community engaged. However, COVID-19, coincidentally, was a “big push” to launch in spring 2020.  

“We looked at this like it’s a perfect time to be that group to reach out to students when they need us most, to know they had a group to reach out to,” she said. “Suicide during the COVID pandemic … it’s prevalent; there’s been a spike. People aren’t able to reach out to others as much. They’re unable to go to the doctor right now. Many places are trying to do counseling over Zoom, and that’s incredibly impersonal. People are feeling isolated. Us, starting this group, we’re able to bring people to together to feel like they’re being heard.” 

Neal will earn her BSW degree in December 2021 and will pursue a career in healthcare social work.