Suicide is second in college deaths



Campus Times
April 23, 2004

by Valerie Rojas
Arts Editor

A new school was appealing to Kathy Morrison for the first few weeks. New faces, new surroundings, new professors, a new life. All of these awaited her, and she was excited.

She moved out of her parents’ house and straight into the UC Irvine dormitories a few weeks into the summer following her 2002 high school graduation. She spent those last weeks with her closest friends, remembering the past and getting prepared for the future.

The first few weeks were a breeze. She got her assignments in on time. She attended residence hall meetings, bowling parties and movie nights in the recreation center. Everything seemed to be going her way, until she woke up one day and dreaded getting out of bed.

“I woke up and did not want to move,” Morrison said. “I no longer wanted to live this life.”

Suddenly, she no longer felt that she belonged on the UCI campus. She stopped attending classes regularly and found any excuse to head home to Fontana to visit friends or say hello to her parents. She was not happy in her situation and the effects were evident in her grades.

“Before I knew it, my professors were telling me I was failing,” she said.

The people around her also noticed her withdrawal. Morrison no longer wanted to be around the people at her school, they were just reminders of what she did not want to be around.

“The people around me were not the people I wanted to be around. I felt like no one understood me there and no matter where I was or what I was doing, I did not belong,” Morrison said.

After weeks of skipping classes, crying herself to sleep and fighting with her parents, Morrison decided it was best to withdraw from the university and head back to Fontana, where she felt she belonged.

Morrison’s sudden bout with depression was triggered by the new surroundings and pressure of having to adjust to a new school, new friends, new debt, and new responsibilities.

“I could not stand being there and I did not want to live there anymore.”

Luckily for Morrison, now 20, she found an escape before the depression worsened.

Unfortunately, there are many college students who have resorted to a more permanent solution for dealing with the stresses of college life and their battles with depression.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college age students. It is second only to car accidents.

More than 29,000 people in the United States kill themselves each year. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a suicide attempt is made every minute and every 18 minutes a suicide is completed successfully.

While the general suicide rate in the United states has declined in the last 25 years, the suicide rate for those ages 15 to 24 has tripled.

College students face many sources of stress. There is pressure to get good grades, have a social life, pay off ever-increasing student loans, and still seem composed and happy.

“It is not uncommon on college campuses for students to get stressed out and struggle with mood issues, especially when going through life changes,” said University of La Verne postdoctoral fellow Dr. Kirstyn Chun.

The most common cause of suicidal thoughts and attempts is untreated depression. While one-in-four women and one-in-ten-men experience depression in their lifetime, less than one third of those actually seek treatment.

Untreated depression can gradually worsen if left untreated. And depression can lead directly to suicide.

Warning signs of depression may include changes in activity level, appetite, sleep patterns, decreased interest in activities and social withdrawal.

Other signs include showing some sense of hopelessness or despair, sudden mood changes, and personality differences. More specific warning signs include: mentioning of suicidal plans, giving belongings away, or having attempted suicide in the past.

Many who suffer from depression experience their first bout with the disease while in college.

According to Dr. Laura Smith, director of Barnard College Counseling Services, 90 to 95 percent of college-age suicides are the result of mental illnesses, depression being the most prevalent.

Some of those suffering from depression may turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to lessen the pain they feel from their depression. Substance and alcohol abuse often leads those suffering slightly from clinical depression to actually commit rash acts that they would not have committed had they been sober.

According to Richard O’Connor, Ph.D., some young people who have never expressed a suicidal thought have taken their own lives when they were drunk to ease the pain of a disappointment or loss. Drugs and alcohol also have a depressant effect of their own.

College-age students may also feel they are lacking social support. The backing they once received from their family members, friends, or church may no longer be available once they have left home.

These students may find themselves alone and suffer from a more serious form of psychological stress.

But they are far from alone. Numerous community organizations, college groups and national support groups have been established to help students on the verge of suicide.

The Surgeon General has made suicide one of his top concerns and organizations such as the American Association of Suicidology and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention are striving to equip communities with resources necessary to aid in the fight against suicide. These initiatives prove that suicide is no longer a back room secret, but has been recognized as a national epidemic.

Every community has citizens at risk for suicidal tendencies and it is up to these individual communities to find ways to reach out to those at risk.

Since depression in students seems to be such a serious and widespread trend, many colleges offer students various counseling services on campus. These services are crucial in the move to prevent suicides.

Various programs have been established to help those who feel that their friends or peers may be at risk, receive the information they need to reach out to them.

On the ULV campus students are welcome to participate in individual counseling sessions with trained specialists to help in dealing with suicide or depression, whether they need help for themselves or a friend at risk.

While the help is available, not all who are in need of this assistance actually seek it.

“Some people are not sure whether or not a friend is in danger and they don’t want to decide on their own, but if you’re a little bit concerned, call us, to see if there is reason for concern,” Chun said.

The ULV crisis center can be reached at (909) 593-3511, Ext. 4831 from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on week days. In cases of emergency, a professional can be reached at Ext. 4650.

Light for Life, a foundation centered in San Diego, is geared at reaching out to the youth and those affected by the loss of someone young and dear to them. The organization encourages peer outreach, claiming that nearly 78 percent of adolescents turn to their peers before turning to an adult.

The Jed Foundation, a non-profit organization started by parents of a University of Arizona sophomore who killed himself, publishes www.ulifeline.org, a Web site dedicated to assisting students with suicidal behavior.

Ulifeline.org is a free service that allows students to receive online assistance and questions to answers and problems they may have about suicide. Once a university is registered with www.ulifeline.org, a student can log on and receive personal mental health services, including a self-evaluation test.

Many organizations offer information on warning signs for possible suicidal behavior in people who may be at risk.
Because untreated depression is the most threatening cause of suicide, most stress the importance of detecting depression before it is too late.

Web sites such as www.mentalhealthscreening.org offer information about local mental health screening sites in various areas. These screening tests are used to detect depression before it is too late and connect those at risk with help from the treatment of a health care system.

Suicide is a serious subject and one that should not be taken lightly. Every year college campuses across the nation and the world lose members of their student body to this killer. But as outreach progresses, there is hope that those at risk for suicide will get the help they need before it is too late.

“I know that my situation was not as serious as some other students who feel they can’t handle life anymore. Luckily for them and anyone else at risk, there is help. They just need to get it,” Morrison said.