Suicide on college campuses: what every parent should know

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Sep 7, 2018, 1:46 PM | Updated: Sep 11, 2018, 12:02 am


When you think of college, the first things that likely come to your mind are textbooks, tuition and newfound independence, not suicide. However, for a growing number of students and their families nationwide, suicide comes part and parcel with college life. In fact, it’s the second most common cause of death for young adults, with only accidents exceeding it.

Here is what parents, students and educators should know about the connection between college and mental health issues.

Mental health diseases are real and widespread for young adults

According to the American Association of Suicidology, suicide for youths ages 15 to 24 has risen nearly 200 percent since 1950. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also points to data showing that since 1999, females ages 10-14 have had some of the highest increases in suicide rates, which portends problems for future college students, as well, though overall, men are more likely than women to commit suicide.

Tracking of suicides on college campuses has been haphazard in the past, which is a problem in that it affects the picture of how suicide rates have changed. At times, this has happened because of the difficulty in confirming the cause of death or because the medical examiner or family doesn’t inform the school of the cause. Schools may also worry that reporting suicide rates could negatively impact their business. This makes determining the true rate of college campus suicide difficult to estimate.

Schools are bound by privacy laws

Another problem facing schools and students is privacy laws that may restrict parents from knowing how their students are doing in school. Students who are over 18 must grant written permission to anyone, including parents, who wants access to education records, according to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. So it could be difficult for family members to know how a student is doing academically and spot warning signs that might point to suicide.

In an emergency, the school can grant a medical release to next of kin, but such a release would come too late to prevent the medical emergency from happening.

Warning signs of suicide

Sometimes, a struggling person will show warning signs before making a suicide attempt. Copper Springs, a mental health and addiction treatment center in Avondale, Arizona, lists the following possible signs:

  • Giving away belongings or talking about getting “affairs in order”
  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt or difficulty concentrating
  • Pulling away from loved ones
  • Sudden changes in behavior, including calmness after a period of anxiety
  • Heavy alcohol abuse or use of illegal drugs
  • Having difficulty at work or in school
  • Talking about death or suicide

Parents may not witness such behaviors in person, which is why the suicide of college students may come as such a shock to family members.

Communication is key

Consistent communication is one of the most important steps families can take in preventing suicide. Psychology Today tells parents, “reassure your child that he or she can come to you with any problem.”

They may not want to upset you by voicing their thoughts unless you let them know you’re open to helping them in whatever way they need.

Most college campuses have counseling services available to students that can help diagnose the underlying problem and enable them to come up with a plan for moving forward.

Underlying risk factors for suicidal thoughts include depression, anxiety, loneliness, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug or alcohol abuse or borderline personality disorder.

For more information on how to prevent or recognize suicidal behaviors or to get help for yourself or someone you know who is thinking about suicide, call 480-565-3035 or visit Copper Springs today.

Katie Nielsen received her bachelor’s in English with an emphasis in technical writing from BYU-I where she also served as the editor-in-chief of the Faculty Technology Center. She is a published author and today teaches college English online for BY

Copper Springs



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