Student suicides rise
Posted on Sep 04, 2012 in News
Suicide is one of those subjects that people don’t really like to talk about; it’s a touchy subject that needs to be addressed in a composed manner.
“Suicide is the result of a multiplicity of factors, including mental illness, physical illness, substance abuse, and situational factors that result in feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and lack of worth,” says Susan Hart, director of UAB’s counseling and wellness center.
Unfortunately, the number of successful suicides in America has grown within the past few years, becoming the third leading cause of death for people age 15 to 24, accounting for over 12% of annual deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“People in this age group are generally figuring out their identities and how they fit into the world,” says Beth Stanley, L.G.S.W., and a 25-year-old international social worker at Lifeline Children Services.
Of these deaths, nearly 80% were male.
“Males are slower to mature than females in general, and often they let their job or in the case of students, their “role” as a student dominate their personal identity,” says Hart.
“Females generally have wider social networks than males, because of the wider variety of roles: daughter, sister, friend, church member, possibly mother as well, in addition to their job or being a student. Females are generally more religious than males and religiosity is a strong protective factor.”
The jump from high school to college can prove to be a tough transition for some students, leading to increased levels of confusion, stress, anxiety, and even loneliness, all of which can lead to depression.
“Students living on campus may be at a higher risk, particularly during their freshman year, since this may be their first time living away from home and they are scared and lonely,” says Hart.
“They may have a hard time making friends and may be less trusting of the new friends that they have made.”
However, the past few years don’t really indicate that freshmen are necessarily at a higher risk than their fellow students.
In Alabama, there were a total of 70 successful suicides performed by a wide-range of college-aged men and women in 2009 (none of which took place on UAB’s campus), according to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s Center for Health.
“In my experience, students who choose to reside on campus are seeking a connection with their community and friendships beyond those experienced in high school,” says Marc Booker, director of student housing and residential life.
“As a result, I believe freshmen living on campus would be at a lower risk to feel or become isolated and detached from their community.”
Some people even argue that the risk for suicidal tendencies may increase throughout a person’s college experience.
“While [students] are exposed to quite a few novel and stressful situations as a freshman, the stress from those situations can amplify for some as they get older,” says Kate Randall, a junior pre-nursing major here at the university. “While the pressure of adapting to a new workload and lifestyle can be immense for some, it grows even more as class levels increase and inevitable career decisions loom. That is without mention of the non-scholastic stressors that plague everyone daily.”
Regardless of whether or not freshmen are at a higher risk than their older counterparts, one major way to cope with their lives’ recent changes is to find some way of finding their niche within the school.
“I believe it’s very important to make every effort to find one’s ‘place’ – in college, clubs, philanthropic groups, religious affiliations, etc.,” says Booker. “A meaningful connection may take several attempts among the endless choices available to our society today. A great place for freshmen to start is to experience new things, people, places, and opportunities – one class, person, meeting, or trip at a time. Sign up for an outdoor pursuits trip, spend a spring break away, volunteer at a Birmingham area food bank, animal shelter, or hospital, or any other opportunity you may not have experienced thus far.”
Even though depression is a problem that can’t be summarized into a list of symptoms, some easily spotted signs include trouble sleeping, eating, working, and enjoying friends and activities.
Others, however, may experience unnoticeable signs such as guilt, hopelessness, and recurring thoughts and dreams about suicide.
“My biggest thing has to do with some people’s inability to pinpoint their feelings,” says Stanley. “They don’t realize they’re depressed. Sometimes it can even be due to a chemical imbalance. It really is something that needs a lot more advocacy and education.”
There are numerous resources available to students to help them battle any sort of internal conflicts and struggles they may be facing, such as the counseling and wellness center, the psychiatry department, and even the Internet.
UAB’s non-profit counseling and wellness center, located on the 1st floor of Holly-Mears Building, is available to all enrolled students of UAB and can be contacted by phone – (205) 934-5816 – or e-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org.
“You have free counseling available on campus—take advantage of it,” says Hart.
Their mission: “…to encourage students as they resolve problem areas and to help them cope with difficulties they are presently experiencing…”
“Talk about your feelings! Talking about your fears and thoughts can help more than anything else,” says Hart. “If you are not comfortable with seeing a counselor, talk to a responsible professor, coach, minister, or anyone who helps you to get past these feelings. It may be a janitor, or a lunchroom lady, anyone who listens to you and offers sensible advice may help you past these feelings, which generally will subside after a relatively short time.”
“And I would say to anyone reading this article,” says Stanley, “that if you are experiencing any type of suicidal thought or ideation, tell someone you trust right away. It’s ok to get help.”