While some college students experience feelings of sadness, depression, or hopelessness, a small number may be so overwhelmed by such feelings that they consider suicide as an escape or solution. Suicide, sometimes referred to as intentional self-injury or self-inflicted violence, is considered to be an outcome of untreated or undetected mental health problems. Stress and depression are two well-known precursors of suicide, though there are certainly others. Risk factors for suicide include previous suicide attempt(s), a history of substance abuse, a family history of suicide, chronic physical illness, and impulsive or aggressive tendencies.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college-age young people, with an estimated 1100 suicides occurring on campuses each year. The 2005 National College Health Assessment (NCHA) found that 10 percent of students seriously considered attempting suicide and 2 percent attempted suicide in the past year. These findings are relatively consistent with results from other studies, such as the National College Health Risk Behavior Survey conducted more than a decade ago. Findings from the Big Ten Student Suicide Study also suggest that older students, including graduate students, may be more likely than younger students to commit suicide.
Although college students are slightly less likely than other young people to attempt or commit suicide, many officials are taking action to address and prevent suicide on campus. Several high-profile college student suicides have captured the press and the public’s attention. Campus attorneys stand on notice to increasing numbers of lawsuits resulting from student suicides. While best practices in college suicide prevention are still being identified, a comprehensive approach involving campus academic and residential staff, health services, and students’ family members is considered to be an effective method to address this complex issue.