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Suicide on Campus: Second Leading Cause of Death Among College Students

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Young adults living in a transitory period of leaving behind the chords of parental sway and entering into a world of responsibility, unaccountability, and decision making can incite a lack of certainty and adjustment, wavering and a wariness, shaking the very self-perceived value for their life. Depression, anxiety, isolation, we often understand these problems as mere words, but to some less fortunate, these “words” are measurements to the sanctity of living versus an embellished notion of death as a remedy for their emotional pain or anger. As such, these forms of mental illness without treatment can quickly mount in severity until ending their life was not a sole fantasy, thought, plan, but an action.

The Suicidal Mind

Recent studies have shown that suicide in college students has more than tripled, ages 15-24 up 312%, depression and mental illness being the foremost root. On average, one in five students suffer from some form of mental illness; however, studies show that a piffling six percent seek some form of treatment.

Despite suicide being the second leading cause of death among college students, there is limited research identifying significant factors that can be used to pinpoint more effective treatment and prevention initiatives. The research that is available suggests suicide and mental illness are more prevalent among certain groups of people on campus. Dr. Alan Lipschitz of Suicide and Mental Health Association International (SMHAI) stated in an essay, “Despite their limitations, some of these studies make the disturbing suggestion that certain student groups may have considerably higher rates of suicide, and that suicide may be more prevalent among students attending some elite schools in the U.S., England and Japan.”

According to his essay, Dr. Lipschitz believes social isolation is a key factor in developing mental illness. Foreign students suffer the heavier brunt of adjustment issues because of culture and language impediments, which can lead to social isolation. He added, nevertheless, that there is more to the suicidal mind than just being socially isolated. It can involve a mixture of disparate emotions, self abhoring, anger and blame-shifting, disconnection from family and friends, a sense of hopelessness and worthlessness, no esteem for life and living. Suicide, at first a thought or fantasy, becomes an outlet for revenge or relief; even so, those entertaining these delusional ideas of death are often unsure of actually dying. They are looking more, whether they know it at the time or not, for a reason and purpose to continue their life, a mere cry for help, which is why prevention measures are so important.

Signs and Prevention

Peers around those that might be mentally ill and contemplating suicide are the most beneficial when it comes to suicide prevention. Teachers, counselors, and parents may not be privy to the intimacies of dorm life and student-to-student interaction. No one can be absolutely certain who is most at risk for following through with suicide, but having the wherewithal to identify those who show suicidal signs can make a significant difference in every respective circumstance.

Be advised that mentally ill college students do not necessarily display the same signs and symptoms of impending suicide as a young adult outside of the college scene who is more likely to be impulsive and reckless with a probable attachment to drugs and alcohol. College students at risk are more reclusive, depressed and quiet, and may not abuse drugs and alcohol, which, by the way is deadly when combined with depression. Their desire is sheer obscurity.

Other signs or triggers may include the following:

LOSS/REJECTION – in relationships (family, friends, professors, coaches, etc.), scholastically, loss in a job or health, a death of someone close.

DEPRESSION – lack of sleep, lack of attention to appearance and school performance, moodiness (hostile, sad, withdrawn, etc.), drastic change in weight, isolation from friends and activities

VERBAL CLUES – “I’m going to kill myself.” “I’d be better off dead.” “What would you think of someone who committed suicide?”

BEHAVIOR – history of suicide attempts, a sudden positive change in mood from depression, giving away possessions, notes and journaling about death and suicide.

If you suspect a friend or peer may be at risk of suicide, this is your opportunity to trust your instinct. It is far better for your instinct to be wrong than to have been right and done nothing to try to prevent it from happening.

1. Develop a deeper relationship with this person. Do not leave them alone.

2. Confront them on the issue of their suspected depression or suicide, and be detailed in your questioning: Are you..? When would you..? How would you..? Who can help you..?

3. Contact any family members.

4. If they do not seek help, immediately contact a health professional or counselor at the school.

If a suicide has taken place on campus, be aware of the suicide contagion issue and vigilant of others who might “copycat.”

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