Therapeutic Thursday:Suicide Risk Amongst College Students

Suicide is a serious concern amongst young adults, and the isolation and loneliness of some college students’ experience appear to be some of the factors that may trigger the behavior. Suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst college-aged students.

Suicide is most commonly viewed as a symptom of severe depression. Depression of this nature often goes undiagnosed in a young adult, because they don’t know what it is, or have no energy or motivation to seek out help. But other risk factors can also be in play.

John M Grohol PsyD, writes that in a survey of 1,085 University of Maryland college students, 12 percent said they had contemplated suicide. Eight out of 10 students reported having had a depressed mother. Other risk factors the researchers identified included: exposure to domestic violence, feelings of being unloved, depression and prolonged separation from family and friends, triggering anxiety.

Having a depressed parent has long been associated with being at increased risk for depression in a child. Living or growing up with someone who is constantly suffering from depression seems to paint a bluer and generally more hopeless picture of the world around us. A child growing up in a household with a depressed parent may learn less positive coping skills for dealing with negative emotions. Our home environment can be a very powerful reinforcement for the kinds of behaviors we learn.

None of this suggests someone can’t learn to overcome these depressive tendencies. Just that — armed with this knowledge — one should be aware of the greater risk for depression and proactively seek to railroad depression before it begins its downward spiral.

But make no mistake about it — thinking about depression doesn’t mean someone is likely to attempt suicide. There’s a huge gulf, according to the research, between thoughts of suicide (which can often be fleeting), and the actual act of trying to commit suicide (which requires a lot more planning and fortitude).

The findings also showed that it is problematic for researchers to assume there is a correlation between an individual’s tendency to have suicidal thoughts and the act of attempting suicide. Research showed that students who thought about suicide frequently are no more likely to attempt it than others.

Administrators at universities and colleges can go a long way in helping students who are at greater risk for suicidal thoughts by screening for these risk factors upon arrival to campus for first time freshmen. I believe a little proactive screening can go a long way to helping identify depression in students long before it becomes a more serious problem — or behavior — that can’t be undone.


DrBev is a National Certified Counselor, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and a Certified Gestalt Psychotherapist, Seminar - WorkShop Facilitator, Radio Personality, Author and President and Educational Director of DrBev Mental Health Counseling.
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One Comment

  1. Karen Patterson
    Posted November 5, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Bev,
    Great article! I have two children who are college students. My sons’ and I are very close and they speak of various instances of depression within their peers that they’ve witnessed at one time or another. You seem to be a very caring therapist with a REAL personal interest in your work. I love that about your displayed communication on FB. Thank you for making a difference through your life’s purpose.
    Peace, Love and Blessings to you<3

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