Caitlyn Kudrecki, a student in McNeese State University’s counseling psychology master’s degree program and intern at the Kay Doré Counseling Center (KDCC), has taken on a new role as Suicide Education and Prevention Coordinator in conjunction with McNeese’s Suicide Education and Prevention Program.
The program is an outgrowth from McNeese’s involvement with Sam Houston High School’s Peer Initiative Leaders of Tomorrow (PILOT) program. In 2014, after SHHS lost two students to suicide, the PILOT program was created by educators Ken Brown and Sara Jolie to help address the issue. Through a partnership with SHHS, McNeese counseling graduate students in the KDCC began to train SHHS student peer leaders on how to talk to their fellow students about issues like bullying that contribute to suicidal thoughts while also providing counseling services to vulnerable students.
Begun in May 2019, McNeese’s Suicide Education and Prevention Program has extended these efforts to include outreach to the Calcasieu Parish School Board, local hospitals, health education centers and clinics to open up dialogues about mental health and raise awareness of both the prevalence of suicide in Southwest Louisiana and the KDCC’s counseling services.
“Even before she started seeing clients, Caitlyn had reached out to me early on in her graduate studies with an email that said, ‘I need more training on suicide prevention,’” says Dr. Kevin Yaudes, assistant professor of psychology and faculty adviser to the KDCC. “That was the direction I was already interested in, so we’ve really worked to incorporate those efforts into the entire program.”
Kudrecki and Yaudes have undergone multiple training courses including Talk Saves Lives, More Than Sad and QPR to deepen their understanding of suicide and better learn how to connect with those who are suffering or who are in crisis. They then bring this knowledge to the local community by hosting training sessions. Attendees have included parents, teenagers and groups from local churches.
“The way we’re already helping the community may seem small now, but our efforts are just going to snowball into a bigger impact,” says Kudrecki. “Not only does this help others, but this training also gives me opportunities to help other KDCC interns who are coming into this program obtain the knowledge they need to help other clinicians out in the community.”
Kudrecki was also active in the 2019 Out of the Darkness Walk, which was co-chaired by Yaudes and held in support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The event was attended by more than 1,100 people and raised more than $23,000 for the organization.
“What was so surprising to me was you’re never really far away from someone who has been personally impacted by suicide. It’s just that we don’t talk about it,” Yaudes says. “Through these outreach and awareness efforts, we hope we can start the conversation and get people talking.”
In her new role, Kudrecki will work to facilitate fundraising events, research grants, and conduct her own research on suicide to better understand its impact in the area.
The training that she’s recieved through McNeese’s graduate counseling program, she says, has brought immeasurable benefits both personally and professionally.
“Obviously one of the benefits is being able to be there for a client who really needs the help, but it’s also reassuring for me to know that whether I’m counseling at the KDCC or elsewhere after I graduate, I know that I have the training to help my clients,” she says.
Yaudes says the program’s work is increasingly important due to the coronavirus epidemic, which has presented a challenge to the emotional and mental health of millions facing the loss of loved ones or financial difficulties.
“What we’re really dealing with now is extraordinary stressors. Even people who have great coping mechanisms or strong support systems can come up against something like coronavirus that is such an extreme ordeal, and their coping mechanisms can begin to fail. We want to encourage everyone who might be struggling during this time to reach out and seek help if needed.”
Counseling services at the KDCC are available for a flat rate of $20 per session. The clinic offers individual, couples, family and group counseling. For more information, visit mcneese.edu/kdcc or call 337-475-5981.