A permanent solution to a problem that’s probably temporary

Over 30,000 people kill themselves every year in the United States. Of these suicides, 1,000 will occur on a college campus, which works out to about three student suicides every day. Nearly all of these students are suffering from a mental illness, usually depression.

The obvious question is why is this happening? Why are so many of the brightest people in our nation, our future leaders, ending their lives just as they begin to reach their prime? While there is no clear answer, it seems that the intense academic and social pressures of college life may be too much for some young people to handle. Whereas young adults who are not enrolled in college and commit suicide tend to be impulsive risk-takers, the typical college suicide is committed by students who are quiet and socially isolated. They may feel unloved by parents, unaccepted by peers and incapable of achieving academic success. In desperate times, suicide may seem like the only escape.


Suicide is behind only accidents as the leading cause of death among college-aged men and women in the United States. More students commit suicide than die from cancer, AIDS, heart disease and stroke combined. Since 1950, the suicide rate among college students has risen dramatically.

For every successful suicide, there’s an untold number of failed attempts that go unreported. The best figures available show that somewhere in the range of 10 percent of all college students seriously contemplate suicide, and 6 percent actually make plans to commit the act. Graduate students evidently face the greatest risk; they account for over 30 percent of suicides on campus.

Suicide rates are significantly higher for men than for women, even though women are more likely to attempt suicide. This incongruence can be explained by the fact that men are less likely to have a failed attempt.

Sadly, less than 20 percent of college students have received information regarding suicide prevention from their college.

Suicide Warning Signs

Not everyone who commits suicide exhibits warning signs in the time prior to their death. Some choose to hide their true feelings, perhaps because they are embarrassed by them. However, most do show some warning signs. In fact, prior to a suicide attempt, an individual may overtly exhibit warning signs as a cry for help. These signs may include:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Personality changes
  • Social detachment
  • Talking about feeling hopeless
  • Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Giving away possessions
  • Lack of care for the self, including significant weight gain or loss
  • Lack of care for academic performance
  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol
  • Partaking in dangerous activities, including impaired driving and getting into fights
  • Talking or writing about suicide or violence
  • Obtaining a weapon or an object that could be used for self-injury
  • Attempting suicide

Around 75 percent of all people who are contemplating suicide give some kind of warning to a family member or friend. There’s no sure way to tell if an individual’s actions are a precursor to a suicide attempt. However, nearly all of the behaviors listed above are symptomatic of some sort of mental illness. If you notice any of these warning signs from an individual you believe may be suicidal, play it safe and immediately seek professional assistance.

Getting Help

Even though you aren’t a trained professional, there are two main things you can do to help any friend or acquaintance who’s contemplating suicide. First, you can talk, listen and express your concern. Talking to someone about whether they have considered suicide will not push them to do it. You don’t need to pretend to have all the answers. Simply offer support.

Second, you can assist the person in obtaining professional care. The best place to go is your campus’s health clinic. If the individual refuses to get help, you may need to go against their wishes and report the danger to the proper authorities. It may damage your friendship in the short term, but it will save a life. In an emergency situation, take the person to a hospital emergency room or psychiatric facility, or call 911.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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