Suicide is a serious public health problem that takes the lives of almost forty thousand Americans and over one million individuals worldwide each year.
By Dana Boccio, Ph.D., Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies
Suicide is a serious public health problem that takes the lives of almost forty thousand Americans and over one million individuals worldwide each year. It is the second leading cause of death among college students and accounts for 12% of all deaths among 15-24-year-olds. According to the American Association of Suicidology, there are more than 1,000 suicides on college campuses each year, with many more young adults considering suicide as a viable option. Results from a large-scale survey conducted by the American College Health Association revealed that 9.5% of college students had seriously contemplated suicide over the past year and 1.5% had made a suicide attempt. Moreover, hopelessness and depression were found to be common phenomena experienced by students enrolled in higher education. These data highlight the significant mental health problems faced by today’s college and university students.
Despite these alarming statistics, suicide can be prevented. Students, faculty, and staff can work together to prevent the loss of human life by increasing their awareness of the warning signs of suicide and encouraging individuals who struggle with suicidal thoughts or behavior to seek treatment. The following are recommended actions for assisting individuals who may be suicidal:
- Become knowledgeable about the warning signs that indicate a person may be considering taking his or her own life. Many colleges and universities offer suicide prevention workshops (often called gatekeeper trainings) to educate individuals about the signs of suicidality. Adelphi offers the Question, Persuade, and Refer (QPR) training, a relatively brief program that teaches individuals three simple steps for responding to someone in crisis. The American Association of Suicidology has developed the acronym, IS PATH WARM, as a tool to help individuals remember ten warning signs that suggest a person is in distress:
- Ideation (Suicidal Thoughts)
- Substance Abuse
- Mood Changes
- View all suicidal gestures and threats as cause for concern. Most people who die by suicide exhibit warning signs prior to their death. These may include direct or indirect verbal statements (e.g., “People would be better off without me”), a preoccupation with themes of death and dying, and sudden behavioral changes (e.g., withdrawal from social activities, increased sleeping, giving away valued possessions). Individuals considering suicide may also communicate their intentions via posts on social media websites, such as Facebook. All suicidal gestures should be taken seriously.
- Recognize that most individuals who experience persistent thoughts of suicide or engage in suicidal behavior are suffering from one or more psychological disorders, most commonly, depression. These individuals should be encouraged to seek mental health treatment in order to address their underlying psychological difficulties.
- Be aware that the experience of significant stress (e.g., from an unwanted break-up, preparing for finals) can exacerbate suicidality and serve as a trigger for a suicidal crisis. While stressful life events are rarely, if ever, solely responsible for suicidal behavior, they can combine with pre-existing risk factors (e.g., depression, substance abuse) to worsen suicidal thoughts and behavior. Social support will be especially critical during these periods.
- If you think someone may be considering suicide, ask the person directly, but in a sensitive manner. The open discussion of suicide is becoming less taboo, but many people still feel uncomfortable asking others about their experiences with suicidality. Try to control your own emotional reactions and feelings of uneasiness when inquiring about a person’s suicidal thoughts or intent. By demonstrating a willingness to talk openly and expressing genuine caring and concern, you can work to erase the stigma surrounding suicide.
- Express a sense of hope for the future. While it’s important not to minimize a person’s feelings of distress, suicidal thoughts do fluctuate over time. The proverb, “This too shall pass” accurately describes the experience of suicidality. Let the person know that, with help, things can get better.
- Become familiar with available on-campus and community resources, including the following:
Student Counseling Center
University Center Room 310
Health Services Center
On-campus: dial extension 5 on any campus phone.
Off-campus: Call Public Safety at 516.877.3511 or call 911.
Long Island Crisis Center 24/7
Suicide- National Hotline 24/7
Remember, suicide prevention is everyone’s business. Each year, countless families, friends, and co-workers are affected by the devastation that suicide leaves behind.
By remaining alert to the warning signs of suicide, communicating a sense of genuine caring and hopefulness about the future, and directing at-risk individuals to appropriate resources, you can help save lives.
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