Suicide Prevention

Over the past 30 years, the overall rate of suicide among adolescents has tripled, making it the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year-olds. It is second only to automobile accidents as the leading cause of death among college-age students. The suicide rate for young men (15-24) has tripled, while for young women (15-24) it has more than doubled. The suicide rate for young black males (15-24) has risen by 66% over the past 15 years.

While suicidal behaviors are often evident in a wide cross-section of people, there is general agreement that there are two distinct groups of students on campus who may be at higher risk for suicide: students who have pre-existing mental health conditions when they enter college and students who develop mental health problems during the college years.

Taking the generally accepted rate of 7.5 suicides for every 100,000 students on the college campus and applying that to the total 14.5 million students enrolled in two and four year degree-granting institutions would result in an anticipated 1088 suicides on college campuses per year.

While we may tend to look upon the college years as a time of growth and opportunity, these years are also replete with the stress that often accompanies such a major developmental milestone. Leaving familiar community and family support systems and adjusting to the demands and responsibilities of a new environment is stressful especially for freshmen. This is one reason why college students are at high risk. By the time a student graduates from college studies report that one fourth to one third of students have thought of killing themselves.   Almost all college students who consider suicide want something in their life to change or be different. They believe they have run out of alternatives. If they can see a new alternative, thoughts of suicide often cease. Life's difficulties can be extremely painful and may appear to last forever; however, better times do happen. Survivors of attempted suicide consistently express relief that their attempt failed and they frequently report feelings of gratefulness. Often, if the pain can be reduced only slightly, the person will want to live and can proceed to have a rich and rewarding life.

The stigma that surrounds mental health disorders in general and suicide in particular undoubtedly distorts society’s full understanding of the extent of suicidal ideation and suicidal behaviors on the college campus. The following points present a general overview of suicide and mental illness as seen among college-aged students:

  • The vast majority of young adults aged 18 and older who are diagnosed with depression do not receive appropriate or even any treatment at all.
  • More teens and young adults die from suicide than from all medical illnesses combined.
  • The suicide rate peaks among young adults (ages 20-24).
  • One in 12 US college students make a suicide plan.

Within the limits of our human capabilities, we work to minimize the possibility of a suicide because life is a precious gift. While some suicides occur without any outward warning, most do not. At the current time there is no definitive measure to predict who will attempt suicide and when it will happen. Researchers have identified factors that place individuals at higher risk for suicide. Be aware. Learn to recognize the warning signs. The following can be associated with risk for suicide. In general, the more of these factors a student has experienced and the greater the severity, the higher the risk for suicide.

  • Previous suicide attempts: Between 20 and 50 percent of people who kill themselves had previously attempted suicide.
  • Talking about death or suicide: People who commit suicide often talk about it directly or indirectly. Sometimes those contemplating suicide talk as if they are saying goodbye or going away. 75% of all suicides give some warning of their intentions to a friend or family member.
  • Planning a suicide: The more specific the plan, the more serious the intent. Suicidal individuals often arrange to put their affairs in order. They may give away articles they value, stock pile pills or write farewell letter/e-mails or a suicide note, or obtain a weapon. Firearms are the fastest growing method of suicide.
  • Depression: Although most depressed people are not suicidal, most suicidal people are depressed. Depression is very treatable!
  • Obvious sadness.
  • Loss of pleasure or withdrawal from activities that had once been enjoyable.
  • Increased isolation or social withdrawal.
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating patterns or weight.
  • Decreased sexual drive.
  • Loss of energy or fatigue.
  • Feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach, or guilt.
  • Hopelessness and/or helplessness.
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate or indecisiveness.
  • Thoughts of death, suicide, or wishes to be dead.
  • Extreme anxiety, agitation or enraged behavior.
  • Excessive drug and/or alcohol use or abuse: Alcohol is a factor in about 30% of all completed suicides.
  • History of physical or emotional illness.
  • Themes of death present in artwork, poetry and/or conversation.
  • Any real or perceived loss such as a relationship breakup, loss of status/prestige, failure in school, death, physical impairment, or financial loss.
  • Stopping going to classes, decrease in self motivation.
  • A pattern of canceling plans.
  • Failure to live up to their own expectations or others expectations.
  • Significant changes in personality.
  • Concerns about sexual orientation, sexual promiscuity, unexpected pregnancy, abortion.
  • Recent sexual assault.
  • Family history of suicide.
  • Family history of child maltreatment.
  • Poor personal hygiene and general apathy.
  • Hostile or reckless behavior.
  • Local epidemics of suicide.

 

Take every complaint or reference to suicide seriously-even jokes!

Acknowledge

Care

Tell

In an acute crisis call 911 or on campus dial 911

Immediately contact appropriate college staff

Do:

  • Consistently stay with the student until help is present.

Immediately contact campus police if there is a weapon that could be turned onto you present. Protect yourself. Leave the premises in this case.

  • Remove from the vicinity any potential objects that could inflict self harm such as drugs.
  • Directly ask if the student is considering suicide or has a plan designed. Use the word "suicide," it does not increase the risk of a suicide occurring. In fact, students are often relieved and may feel as though they have been given permission to talk about it. Listen and reflect by rephrasing their words and feelings to help them hear themselves.
  • Ask specific questions such as, "Have you thought of not wanting to live anymore?"  "Are you thinking about killing yourself?" "Have you thought of how you would commit suicide?" "Do you have the means or opportunity?"
  • Show care and concern. Demonstrate supportive statements such as, "I care about you." "I know we can get through this together." "I can tell you are really hurting." "Tell me what you are going through." "I care too much to sit by and ignore what is happening to you." "It is time to find someone and give you the help you need."  "I would like to try to understand what it is you are feeling and experiencing."
  • Break any confidence. An angry friend is better than a dead one.

 

The message you want to get across:

 

"The suicidal crisis is temporary. Unbearable pain can be survived.

Help is available. You are not alone."

 

Don't:

  • Assume the situation will take care of itself.
  • Act surprised or shocked.
  • Leave the person alone.
  • Be sworn to secrecy. Do not take full responsibility by trying to be the sole counsel. Never agree to keep this information confidential. It is important that a student with suicidal thoughts meet with a counseling professional so they can receive the support they need.
  • Discount their intense feelings.
  • Judge or argue with the person. Do not tell them they are wrong or that feeling this way is wrong.
  • Give advice.
  • Ask "why." This encourages defensiveness.
  • Blame the person for their feelings.
  • Say, "You have so much to live for." or "Your suicide will hurt your family."

Additional Resources:

National Adolescent Suicide Hotline                       1-800-621-4000

National Committee of Youth Suicide Prevention   1-212-673-3000

Suicide Hotline                                                       1-800-SUICIDE

National Mental Health Association                       1-800-989-6642

www.nmha.org

National Institute of Mental Health                         1-800-421-4211

www.nimh.nih.gov

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention         1-888-333-2377

If you need further information, please contact Psychological Counseling Services by telephone at 304-788-6976, or simply stop by the office located on the base floor of the Health Center.

References:

     American Association of Suicidology

     American College Health Association

     American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

     The JED Foundation

     The National Mental Health Association