Campus Suicides: Reality Check
Campus Suicides: Reality Check
The tragic story of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi’s suicide has resonated throughout the academic community. The student’s death was the first of a string of recent suicides by other gay teens, including four high school students and Johnson and Wales University sophomore Raymond Chase.
In early 2010, Cornell University experienced three suicides in less than a month -- after three others during the fall semester of 2009. Other campuses that have lost students to suspected suicides this year include Yale University, University of Illinois and Washington University.
But this does not even begin to paint an accurate picture of the scope of the campus suicide problem. According to the American Association of Suicidology, it’s estimated that more than 1,000 suicides occur on college campuses every year. ...
Campus Suicides Reality Check No. 1: This is a BIG problem.
First, the good news: Several studies have concluded that the suicide rate among college students is about half the rate of non-students of the same age. Still, the statistics on campus suicides remain grim.
A study from the University of Texas at Austin, published last year in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, looked at a cross section of students enrolled in 70 U.S. colleges and universities. According to the study:
Eighteen percent of undergraduates reported that they’d seriously considered attempting suicide.
Of those students, nearly half had experienced three or more periods of suicidal thoughts.
Eight percent said they had already made at least one attempt to take their own lives.
Six percent claimed to have seriously considered attempting suicide in the 12 months prior to the survey.
And if you think none of this pertains to you because you’ve never had suicidal thoughts, check out this finding:
Two-thirds of students who chose to disclose their suicidal thoughts first told a peer, such as a romantic partner, roommate or friend.
This emphasizes the idea that campus suicide should be a concern for all students -- social support networks and more connected, caring communities are the most important factors in campus suicide prevention. Read on to better understand the dynamics of campus suicide. ...
Campus Suicides Reality Check No. 2: Depression can be a killer.
Here’s another fact: Untreated clinical depression is the number one cause of suicide.
There’s a difference between experiencing “the blues” and real clinical depression. Dr. Sylvia Balderrama, Associate Dean of Students and the director of psychological services at Vassar College, says it’s normal to have a hard time after a breakup or when you’re adjusting to being away from home. But, Balderrama continues, “If we stay sad, start missing classes and assignments, stop getting out of bed to shower or eat or take care of ourselves, that’s a serious warning sign. You should ask yourself, ‘Is the problem interfering with what I want to do? Is it interfering with my daily life?’”
“It’s almost embarrassing to talk about depression or anxiety,” says a Vassar sophomore who asked to remain anonymous. “I would always make up excuses, like ‘Oh, I’m feeling really sick.’ I don’t like lying, but that’s just the stigma related with depression and anxiety. Sometimes you can’t help missing classes because, I mean, how can you stay up all night working on an assignment when all you can think about is taking your own life away? When living with yourself becomes intolerable, the last thing on your mind is completing an essay.”
Other warning signs of clinical depression include not wanting to hang out with friends, the habitual use of alcohol or other drugs and, of course, any statements or inferences suggesting suicidal thoughts.
Stress and anxiety are common in college students and can lead to clinical depression. Reportedly, the three Rutgers students who killed themselves earlier this year were experiencing exam stress.
Cyberbullying is another common cause of depression, as it was in the case of Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after his roommate posted a live Internet feed of Clementi having a sexual encounter. Clementi was a gay student, which brings us to another heavy issue. ...
Campus Suicides Reality Check No. 3: LGBTQ students have it rough
Sadly, it’s not surprising that so many of the students in the news highlighting campus suicides are from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community. “Youth who do not conform to societal gender norms have compromised mental health that is clearly linked to the bullying and harassment they receive in school,” according to a new study to be published in the November 2010 edition of Developmental Psychology, the journal of the American Psychological Association.
Besides the usual stresses of schoolwork and homesickness, LGBTQ students also often have to deal with rejection or shame stemming from their identity. The Campus Pride 2010 National College Climate Survey suggests that, for LGBTQ students’ health and well-being, universities should put several practices in place to instill an environment of acceptance. This includes providing appropriate responses to anti-LGBTQ incidents, safety and support of LGBTQ students, policies explicitly inclusive of all sexual identities, open forums for dialogue about gender, and physical and mental health resources.
Campus Suicides Reality Check No. 4: Help is available
Resources are different on every campus, but peer support is a great and fairly widespread option. At Vassar, students can contact The Listening Center (TLC), a 24-hour hotline that offers confidential peer counseling. If you’re unaware of such a service at your school, you can always call 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK. Both are free and available 24/7.
“To be able to pick up the phone and speak to someone anonymously is a much less intimidating alternative for many students,” says senior Kathryn Romaine, President of TLC. “It allows many students who would normally not seek out help to do so. Peer counselors can offer a unique and relatable perspective to a caller’s struggles -- many of our listeners have been through similar situations and can truly empathize with our callers’ experiences.”
Campus Suicides Reality Check No. 5: You can help!
So how do you help if you suspect a friend is in crisis? “When someone starts to isolate themselves, express care and concern and keep communication open,” says Dr. Balderrama. “It’s also important to encourage them to get professional help if you feel you’re in over your head. Know when to say, ‘I think you need more support than I can give you.’”
Romaine suggests the following tips for helping a friend who needs support:
Be supportive and nonjudgmental.
Validate your friend’s feelings and concerns.
Do not dismiss his or her reactions or experiences.
Provide information and referrals to resources, but respect the friend’s choices.
Take threats of self-harm or suicidal plans seriously.
Do whatever is necessary to ensure the student’s safety -- trust your instincts!
Says another anonymous Vassar student who has suffered clinical depression, “I was so afraid my friends would think I was crazy or weird, but you find out later that they were going through similar things. If I had known that at the time, it would have really comforted me and alleviated a lot of the sadness I felt.”
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