Building a Bystander Intervention Initiative to Enhance Mental Health

with Marian Trattner, Kelsey Lammy, Marilyn Russell

About This Course

BeVocal: the bystander intervention initiative of The University of Texas at Austin was created to promote the idea that students have the power to prevent high-risk behavior and harm to themselves and others. Through enhancing student connection and positive interpersonal relationships, BeVocal is designed both to address and prevent a variety of issues including mental health distress, high risk drinking, sexual assault and more. This Live Briefing will discuss best practices using a multi-issue bystander intervention model and give participants the opportunity to learn about the formation and history of BeVocal, as well as how they can enhance their bystander intervention model or create a similar model to BeVocal on their campus that includes student mental health.

BeVocal is a university-wide, multi-issue bystander intervention initiative, to promote the idea that individuals have the power to prevent high-risk behavior and harm. BeVocal is being used as a model across the University of Texas System to connect campus partners and empower students to intervene in situations that may cause harm including student mental health distress. BeVocal seeks to work at multiple levels of the social ecological model (McLeroy, 1988) addressing multiple issues of types of harm and enhancing individual level self-efficacy to intervene as well as collective responsibility and peer norms surrounding the importance of bystander intervention. In supporting the conference’s theme, this session illustrates how BeVocal both addresses how to build programming that addresses the continuum of student mental health problems on campus with the support of successful reciprocal relations between counseling, health, wellness, student affairs services and faculty to improve student mental health.

BeVocal aims to prevent harm and create a culture where students’ interpersonal relationships are enhanced by caring for each other's well-being while continuing to monitor or improve their own mental health.  Participants in this workshop will learn how bystander intervention theory can be applied to their population based programs to improve the overall mental health of their student community.  Discussion around how to enhance or start a similar mutli-issue initiative that includes enhancing students’ mental health will take place. BeVocal is committed to conducting a high level of evaluation of the initiative to measure effectiveness and edit the content and delivery as needed for the UT student body. Evaluation method will be discussed in this program. The national increase in demands on college counseling centers illustrates the importance of addressing mental health on a population level through bystander intervention. NCHA national data highlights the concern: students indicate that stress, depression, and anxiety are among their top academic impediments (NCHA, 2013). At the same time, suicidal behavior is a major concern on college campuses.  Over half of all college students have reported having thought about suicide at some point during their lives. Two-thirds of students report first telling a peer, partner, or family member about their thoughts (DRUM, BROWNSON, 2009). BeVocal aims to address these issues in order to promote mental health on a population-level. This presentation will discuss how BeVocal fits into the larger comprehensive frameworks (i.e. The JED & Clinton Health Matters Campus Program or the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s comprehensive approach for mental health promotion and suicide prevention) used to address a student mental health continuum. Topics ranging from building resilience in students through mental health promotion to suicide prevention will be discussed. More information about BeVocal can be found online.

Learning Outcomes

  • Participants will learn research and history of bystander intervention and BeVocal on The University of Texas at Austin campus.
  • Participants will learn and practice the steps to bystander intervention as practiced by BeVocal and how these can enhance student mental health.
  • Participants from campuses that don’t already have an initiative or program addressing bystander intervention will explore and discuss how to begin building one on their campus. 
  • Participants will consider how to expand their bystander intervention initiative on their campus to include mental health.




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