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December 7, 2001

Understanding College Student Suicide

As we mourn the recent death of UMBC student Mark Schmidt to suicide, the importance of understanding factors associated with suicide risk, what to do when warning signs are present and how to access available resources becomes increasingly compelling.Suicide is a leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 24, (Suicide Among the Young: The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent Suicide, 1999) with somewhat lower rates among college students in this age group. Research conducted as part of the 1995 National College Health Risk Behavior Survey found that as many as ten percent of college students admitted to seriously considering suicide in the year preceding the study (Schoenfeld, A., Web MD Health, 1996-2001).Data is now available that demonstrates higher levels of anxiety among college students than in prior decades (Twenge, July 31, 2001. College Students and the Web of Anxiety, The Chronicle of Higher Education). Further, an increase in the severity of mental health problems presented at college and university counseling services has been reported in the 2001 annual survey of college and university counseling center directors (Gallagher, R., 2001. National Survey of Counseling Center Directors. International Association of Counseling Services). Recent research has also shown increases in suicidal thinking following traumatic events (Marshall, R., etal, 2001. Comorbidity, Impairment, and Suicidality in Subthreshold PTSD, American Journal of Psychiatry).Suicide may be conceptualized as an act of violence involving expression of anger toward the self. Rarely, however, is suicide the result of a single factor or event. Rather, it is best understood as a result of a complex interaction of many factors and events.Risk factors include prior suicide attempts, engaging in other high risk behaviors, easy access to handguns, loneliness, social isolation and withdrawal. Recent losses of close relatives and friends, especially where suicide is the cause, increase the likelihood of suicide. Warning signs include talking about death and suicide, giving away possessions, depressed mood, lethargy and loss of interest in once pleasurable activities. A sudden lift in spirits in a depressed person, paradoxically, can mean that a decision has been made to commit suicide. In many instances suicidal behavior is part of a continuum that includes violence directed toward others.Recognizing the warning signs and taking action are among the most important ways of acting to prevent suicide (“Warning Signs,” American Psychological Association, 1999). Actions you can take to help prevent suicide include the following:1. Take all suicidal comments seriously;2. Acknowledge that a threat or attempt at suicide is a plea for help;3. Be available to listen and to be concerned;4. Do not leave a person alone if you feel she or he may be of danger to self in any way;5. Do not agree to not tell anyone about your concerns for the person;6. Seek immediate professional assistance: Refer and accompany the student to University Counseling Services, or to the nearest hospital emergency room.For additional information and assistance, contact University Counseling Services (UCS) in Math/Psych 201 or (410) 455-2472. Students in urgent need of psychological assistance are seen on a walk-in basis between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, year round. Consultation by UCS staff is available to faculty and staff on student-related concerns.Information may be obtained and workshops may be arranged on helping students in distress, and warning signs of potential suicide by contacting UCS.

Posted by dwinds1 at December 7, 2001 12:00 AM