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Suicides Among College Students

In the past six months, six Cornell students have committed suicide.  Last week, it is suspected that a UT undergrad who fell from an eight story parking garage to his death was also a suicide.  And, on March 31st, a Yale University junior took his life by jumping off the Empire State Building.  While the national average for college students committing suicides is about 3 per year, it seems that this is occurring all too frequently.

What’s the problem?  How stressed and depressed are these young kids that they are seeing no alternative than killing themselves?   Many attribute this to the decreased use of anti-depressants by teens.  In 2004 the FDA mandated that warning labels be placed on anti-depressants of an increased risk of suicidal tendencies.   But many psychologists feel that these anti-depressants were actually helping prevent suicides and the benefits outweighed the risks.

Recently, a study of 26,000 students from 70 universities from across the country was conducted by University of Texas’ Counseling and Mental Health Center. The study found 18 percent of college students had seriously considered suicide.  Eight percent of undergraduates and five percent of graduates have attempted suicide at some point in their lives. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students.

So what can be done and, most importantly, how can you tell if your teen has suicidal tendencies?

Who is at greatest risk?

It’s impossible to predict who will attempt suicide but there are certain groups that are more susceptible.  This includes:

  • Teens with a family history of suicide or mental health problems
  • Teens who experienced abuse and/or who have run away from home
  • Teens with recognized psychiatric conditions.  Usually biologically-based illnesses such as depression and bi-polar disorder begin to appear at this age.

It is also estimated that 20% of teens who commit suicide have substance abuse problems

What are the signs to look for?

  • reckless behavior such as careless driving
  • threats to harm or kill themselves
  • becoming distant from friends and family
  • showing signs of anxiety or depression
  • increasing rebellion or anger
  • dependence on substances such as alcohol or drugs
  • selling or giving away personal possessions
  • becoming interested in death.

What can you do?

Parents may become overwhelmingly upset when they realize that their teenager has suicidal tendencies. However, much can be done to encourage suicide prevention:

  • Talk openly with your children about their feelings. Don’t be afraid to broach the subject—this alone will not “give them the idea.”
  • Listen carefully and resist the temptation to leap in and solve their problems.
  • Don’t preach or patronize. Phrases such as “things could be worse” do little to help someone who is desperate. Instead, give them hope that alternatives exist.
  • If the threat seems imminent, take your teenager to the local emergency room or doctor’s office. Consider calling emergency services in urgent cases.
  • Actively seek help for your teen. Remember that an adolescent with suicidal tendencies has lost all hope and will not have the energy to seek help
  • Make the school aware of the situation and enlist their help in monitoring your child.

If your teenager refuses help, persist nonetheless. Consider involuntary hospitalization, if necessary. The most important thing that you can do is to listen. Leave psychiatry to the professionals.  It’s interesting to note that a majority of teenagers with suicidal tendencies seek help.  Three-quarters of everyone who commits suicide has visited a doctor within four months prior to their death.

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