Depression, Mental Illness and Suicide Among College Students a Harsh Reality

by Dr. Elwood Watson   (See full article here)

  In a 2012 column written by Michael Kerr and confirmed by Dr. George Krudk reported the following statistics:
· One out of every four college students suffers from a form of mental illness, including depression;
· 44 percent of American college students report having symptoms of depression;
· 75 percent of college students do not seek help for mental health problems;
· Suicide is the third leading cause of death among college students;
· Young people diagnosed with depression are five times more likely to attempt suicide than adults;
· Four out of every five college students who either contemplate or attempt suicide show clear warning signs.
The reason for such behavior varies. Intrusive thoughts, varied distractions, sleep deprivation, friendships that turn sour, a sudden or bad breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, academic, social or financial difficulties and feelings of hopelessness are among the reasons.
Other risk and often undiagnosed factors include:
· substance abuse;
· a family history of depression and mental illness;
· a prior suicide attempt;
· access to guns;
· exposure to other students who have committed suicide;
· self-harming behaviors, such as burning or cutting.

More U.S. College Students Die from Suicide Than Alcohol-Related Causes, U.Va. Researchers Find

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Marian Anderfuren:
November 4, 2011 — Suicide outpaces alcohol as a cause of death among college students, according to the first study in more than 70 years to look at the major causes of college mortality in the United States.
The study, "Leading Causes of Mortality Among American College Students at Four-Year Institutions," was commissioned by Dr. James C. Turner, executive director of student health at the University of Virginia, when he was president of the American College Health Association. It was conducted by the association's research department and analyzed by Turner and U.Va. colleague Dr. Adrienne Keller, director of research at the National Social Norms Institute, part of U.Va.'s Elson Student Health Center.
Turner said the study, the first such research since 1939, also suggests that mortality rates of college students are much lower than the same-aged general population. He presented the findings at the American Public Health Association annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 2.
The findings are based on data from 157 schools, representing 1.36 million students ages 18 to 24, which responded to a survey sent to 1,150 institutions. In the survey, schools were asked for mortality rates and causes of death of students between the ages of 18 to 24 for the 2009-10 academic year.
"Most previous studies of college student mortality have not looked at colleges directly, but have used data extrapolated from the general population," Turner said.
The results seem to contradict conventional beliefs concerning the number of alcohol-related deaths, he said. Suicides accounted for 6.18 deaths per 100,000 students, while alcohol was a factor in 4.86 deaths per 100,000.
Overall, the No. 1 cause of death was vehicle accidents, at 6.88 deaths per 100,000, about half of them alcohol-related.
But findings also suggest that campuses provide much safer and more protective environments than previously recognized. When compared to the mortality of 18- to 24-year-olds in the general population, college student death rates are significantly lower for such causes as suicide, alcohol-related deaths and homicide. 
"Hopefully this work will inspire further research to better understand what factors contribute to the protective environment on campuses," he said.
One area appears to be an exception. While the rate of suicide is half that for the general population, the rate has not changed from prior reports on college suicide since the late 1980s, suggesting that greater attention should be placed on student services for depression and other mental illnesses, he said.
Alcohol education and awareness programs are also needed, as alcohol abuse remains a critical public health problem on college campuses. 
Since the sample of schools was not random, caution should be exercised in generalizing these findings to all students in higher education. The sample was very similar demographically to the entire U.S. college population, but was slightly over-representative of Caucasians, public schools and institutions in urban areas.
Citing the urgent need for a more formalized tracking and reporting method among all college campuses, Turner said he has secured a grant from the Centers for Disease Control to develop a surveillance network that will electronically link clinical statistics from health services nationally.
"By directly collecting epidemiologic statistics from major campus health services in the U.S., we can provide a much more accurate picture of health trends in higher education," he said.

More Than 50% of College Students Felt Suicidal



ABCNews Photo Illustration

BOSTON -- A comprehensive study of suicidal thinking among college students found more than half of the 26,000 surveyed had suicidal thoughts at some point during their lifetime. The web-based survey conducted in spring 2006 used separate samples of undergraduate and graduate students from 70 colleges and universities across the country.
Of the 15,010 undergraduates, average age 22: 55 percent had ever thought of suicide; 18 percent seriously considered it; and 8 percent made an attempt. Among 11,441 graduate students, average age 30: Exactly half had such thoughts; 15 percent seriously considered it and 6 percent made an attempt.
"Suicidal crises are a common occurrence on college campuses," says Chris Brownson, director of the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center in Austin and one of the study's researchers.
The findings, which were presented Sunday at a session of the American Psychological Association's annual meeting, were compiled from online surveys conducted by the National Research Consortium of Counseling Centers in Higher Education based at the UT-Austin.
"A lot of previous research has indicated the severity of mental health issues on college campuses has been increasing -- not decreasing -- and when you look at the lifetime prevalence rates, those are alarming statistics," Brownson says.

New research suggests that more than half of college students have had thoughts about suicide at one time or another.
Within the 12 months before answering the survey, 6 percent of undergraduates and 4 percent of graduate students reported seriously considering suicide. However, among those students who thought about it within the past year, an episode of suicidal thinking was typically brief. For both groups, more than half of these episodes lasted a day or less, with about one-third reporting such thoughts lasted an hour or less. Suicidal thinking is frequently recurring, though. The study also found that among those who thought about killing themselves within the past year, just under half of both groups told no one. 

The reasons for suicidal thinking varied, with wanting relief from emotional or physical pain as the major reason. Others were romantic relationship troubles; a desire to end their life; and school-related problems. The preferred method for suicide was overdosing on drugs, with half of those who had tried to kill themselves reporting using drugs. Whether there are in fact more disturbed young people in college today is a subject of debate, according to the researchers, who say more young people with mental health issues are able to attend college as a result of drugs and other treatment measures; more women are in college and they are more likely to seek professional help; and colleges have improved their tracking of those with mental health concerns. 

Of the students surveyed, 17 percent of undergraduates and 22 percent of graduate students reported having ever taken medicine for mental health concerns. 

"Most people in university environments don't really appreciate how much suicidality students engage in. They only see the high-profile examples, but they don't see the everyday anguish students are going though," says UT psychologist David Drum, lead author of the research.
"A study like this raises awareness of the fact this is a more ubiquitous phenomenon. We really need to keep rescuing those in need, but we need to be shifting some of our focus to building resilience and resistance and immunity to ever engage in these thoughts."

Clin Psychol Rev. 2001 Jul;21(5):797-811.

Alcohol and suicidal behavior.


University of Montana, USA.


Alcohol dependence and alcohol intoxication are important risk factors for suicidal behavior. However, the mechanism for the relationship remains unclear. This review presents a conceptual framework relating alcohol to suicidal behavior. Distal risk factors create a statistical potential for suicide. Alcohol dependence, as well as associated comorbid psychopathology and negative life events, act as distal risk factors for suicidal behavior. Proximal risk factors determine the timing of suicidal behavior by translating the statistical potential of distal risk factors into action. The acute effects of alcohol intoxication act as important proximal risk factors for suicidal behavior among the alcoholic and nonalcoholic alike. Mechanisms responsible for alcohol's ability to increase the proximal risk for suicidal behavior include alcohol's ability to: (1) increase psychological distress, (2) increase aggressiveness, (3) propel suicidal ideation into action through suicide-specific alcohol expectancies, and (4) constrict cognition which impairs the generation and implementation of alternative coping strategies. Moreover, the proximal risk factors associated with acute intoxication are consistent with Baumeister's (1990) escape theory of suicide. Suggestions for additional research are discussed, including the possibility that a nonlinear cusp catastrophe model characterizes the relationship between alcohol intoxication and suicidal behavior.  LINK

Links for Assistance / Awareness 

 American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

American Association of Suicidology (AAS)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Indian Health Service (IHS)

NonMedicalPrograms/nspn Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE)

Colleges and Universities personnel for student prevention training


  1. Organizations - National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    Organizations. Please visit these suicide prevention and peer support organizations for more resources and information. Suicide Prevention Organizations.

  2. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. ... Understanding and preventing suicide through research, education, and advocacy. Submit ... Support Groups

  3. Suicide Prevention Professional Organizations | American ... › ... › Multimedia ResourcesLinks of Interest
    Links to other professional organizations within the suicide prevention community.

  4. National Organizations and Federal Agencies with Information on ... › Suicide Prevention Basics
    The following organizations and agencies provide professionals and the general public with information and resources on suicide prevention.

  5. SAVE | Suicide prevention information, suicide, depression awareness
    SAVE is proud to have helped in the development of a newly released resource for Emergency Medical Service providers on suicide prevention. To learn more ...

  6. - For the prevention of teen suicide
    Depression and loneliness cause thousands of youth who appear to be happy to scream silently in the deepest emotional pain. The YRSPP aims to help.

  7. International Association for Suicide Prevention - Home - IASP ...
    Learn about this global organization that is in official relations with the World Health Organization, and holds World Suicide Prevention Day every year on ...

  8. Texas Suicide Prevention | Know the Signs. Save a Life.
    Find resources related to suicide, suicide prevention and suicide postvention for you and your community or organization from nationally recognized sources.

  9. ISDH: Suicide Prevention Organizations - State of Indiana
    Indiana Organizations. Indiana State Dept of Health. Office of Emergency Care, Trauma System/Injury Prevention Program 2 North Meridian Street Indianapolis ...

  10. Suicide Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services ...
    Sep 24, 2012 - provides prevention support, training, and resources to assist organizations and individuals to develop suicide prevention programs, ...

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