Suicidal thoughts among college students more common than expected

Aug 17, 2008

More than half of 26,000 students across 70 colleges and universities who completed a survey on suicidal experiences reported having at least one episode of suicidal thinking at some point in their lives. Furthermore, 15 percent of students surveyed reported having seriously considered attempting suicide and more than 5 percent reported making a suicide attempt at least once in their lifetime.

Presenting Sunday at the 116th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, psychologist David J. Drum, PhD, and co-authors at the University of Texas at Austin reported their findings from a Web-based survey conducted by the National Research Consortium of Counseling Centers in Higher Education. The survey was administered in the spring of 2006 and gathered information about a range of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among college students. The survey was reviewed by the participating campus counseling directors as well as two experts in suicidology.

Six percent of undergraduates and 4 percent of graduate students reported seriously considering suicide within the 12 months prior to answering the survey. Therefore, the researchers posit, at an average college with 18,000 undergraduate students, some 1,080 undergraduates will seriously contemplate taking their lives at least once within a single year. Approximately two-thirds of those who contemplate suicide will do so more than once in a 12-month period.

The majority of students described their typical episode of suicidal thinking as intense and brief, with more than half the episodes lasting one day or less. The researchers found that, for a variety of reasons, more than half of students who experienced a recent suicidal crisis did not seek professional help or tell anyone about their suicidal thoughts.

The researchers used separate samples of undergraduate and graduate students. College sizes ranged from 820 to 58,156 students, with 17,752 being the average. For the 15,010 undergraduates, 62 percent were female and 38 percent were percent male. Seventy-nine percent were white and 21 percent were minorities. Ninety-five percent identified themselves as heterosexual and 5 percent identified as bisexual, gay or undecided. The average age was 22. For the 11,441 graduates, 60 percent were female and 40 percent were male. Seventy-two percent were white and 28 percent were minorities. Ninety-four percent identified themselves as heterosexual and 6 percent identified as bisexual, gay or undecided. The average age was 30.

Both undergraduate and graduate students gave these reasons for their suicidal thinking, in the following order: (1) wanting relief from emotional or physical pain; (2) problems with romantic relationships; (3) the desire to end their life; and (4) problems with school or academics. Fourteen percent of undergraduates and 8 percent of graduate students who seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous 12 months made a suicide attempt. Nineteen percent of undergraduate attempters and 28 percent of graduate student attempters required medical attention. Half of attempters reported overdosing on drugs as their method, said the authors.

From the survey, the authors found that suicidal thoughts are a frequently recurring experience akin to substance abuse, depression and eating disorders. They also found that relying solely upon the current treatment model, which identifies and helps students who are in crisis, is insufficient for addressing reducing all forms of suicide behavior on college campuses.

The authors suggest a new model for dealing with the problem of student suicidal tendencies in order to address the entire continuum of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. By focusing on suicidal thoughts and behaviors as the problem, rather than looking only at students in crisis, interventions can be delivered at multiple points, they said. Furthermore, information from the survey can help match students who are at risk or who have already experienced suicidal thoughts and behaviors with the appropriate treatment. This will reduce the numbers of students entering the suicide continuum in the first place as well as reduce the progression from thoughts to attempts, they said.

With growing levels of distress among college students and diminishing resources to handle the consequences, suicide prevention needs to involve a cross section of campus personnel – administrators, student leaders, advisers, faculty, parents, counselors – and not just involve the suicidal student and the few mental health professionals available. "This would reduce the percentage of students who engage in suicidal thinking, who contemplate how to make an attempt and who continue to make attempts" said Drum.

Source: American Psychological Association

Explore further: Can video games make your brain level up?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

In new social networks, anonymity is all the rage

Mar 30, 2014

When mobile social app Yik Yak swept into Auburn University, some of the coolest kids were quick to start posting on it. But no one knows who is saying what because the comments are anonymous.

Pilots' mental health a concern amid jet mystery

Mar 23, 2014

Reinforced doors with keypad entries. Body scanners and pat-downs. Elaborate crew maneuvers when a pilot has to use the restroom. All those tactics are designed to keep dangerous people out of the cockpit. ...

Recommended for you

Cyber buddy is better than 'no buddy'

48 minutes ago

A Michigan State University researcher is looking to give exercise enthusiasts the extra nudge they need during a workout, and her latest research shows that a cyber buddy can help.

Offenders turn to mental health services 

6 hours ago

Adult criminal offenders in Western Australian are eight times more likely than non-offenders to use community-based mental health services in the year before their first sentence, a UWA study has found.

Deliberation is staunchest ally of selfishness

6 hours ago

(Medical Xpress)—Over the last two years, Yale psychologist David Rand and colleagues have investigated what makes people willing to help each other. Their latest research shows that while initial reactions ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

p_v_s
not rated yet Aug 18, 2008
I am curious as to how these numbers compare to society as a whole. I would think that suicidal thoughts would OBVIOUSLY be higher among the young, who have been lavished, pampered and protected from reality by a society that feels it has advanced past corporal punishment (or any type of corrective attempts by parents) in developmental years, since society as a whole has not changed markedly, and depression could certainly be expected when these adolescents are now thrust into its midst, quite unprepared to fend for themselves or earn their keep. But I see that the average age of the graduate students was 30.

I am therefore curious as to whether a similar study on the genral populace, whose members are expeiencing loss of homes and jobs while prices skyrocket and futures become uncertain, would show any different, or maybe even higher suidical tendencies.

Could this study be nothing more than a further attempt to protect our young people from having to take responsibility for themselves?

More news stories

Cyber buddy is better than 'no buddy'

A Michigan State University researcher is looking to give exercise enthusiasts the extra nudge they need during a workout, and her latest research shows that a cyber buddy can help.

Man among first in US to get 'bionic eye' (Update)

A degenerative eye disease slowly robbed Roger Pontz of his vision. Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a teenager, Pontz has been almost completely blind for years. Now, thanks to a high-tech procedure ...