suicide is a popular alternative for students. Young children and students do not commit suicide in great numbers, but by the time student reach college, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students (Caruso, 2007). This is a rise in statistics since 1996 numbers that indicate suicide was the third leading cause of death in college students ((Davis & Brock, 2002, p. 274). Suicide in college students is closely linked to depression, and it is a popular alternative for students because often, they do not recognize the symptoms or get treatment for their depression until it is too late.
Suicide is a growing problem with American youth for a number of reasons. There is growing pressure on young people to excel at academics in school, participate in extra-curricular activities such as athletics or dance, and still maintain a healthy family life. In short, American students are under more pressure than ever before, and many react to the stress and pressure by committing suicide. Two physiatrist note, "In 1996 [...] no children under the age of 5 and only four children between the ages of 5 to 9 committed suicide in the United States" (Davis & Brock, 2002, p. 274). Even more startling, the rate has increased dramatically in the last decades. Davis and Brock continue, "Since 1950 there has been a 350% increase in the 15- to 19-year-old rate (2.7 to 9.47 per 100,000). Similarly, since 1979 there has been a 190% increase in the 10- to 14-year-old rate (0.82 to 1.57 per 100,000)" (Davis & Brock, 2002, p. 274-275). Data also suggests that there are at least 100 attempted suicides to one completed suicide, which means that more young people are attempting suicide, as well (Davis & Brock, 2002, p. 275). In addition, more males attempt and commit suicide than females, by about 4 to one, and evidence suggests that more female high school students are much more apt to think about, plan, or attempt suicide than males, as well. Minority students also have higher risks of suicide (Davis & Brock, 2002, p. 276). This rising rate of suicide among college students worries many academic and health care professionals. Three writers continue, "A continuing concern among university professionals is the trauma of suicidality among young adults. Suicidality includes suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide generally), suicidal implementation (thoughts of different ways of committing suicide), and suicidal activation (attempts to commit suicide)" (Duane, Stewart & Bridgeland, 2003). Thus, more universities are studying the issue and coming up with ways to help prevent student suicide on campuses across the nation.
As noted, the leading cause of suicide in young adults is depression, but what leads to that depression? Often, the pressures of academia, including large class loads, working while attending school, and the new situation of being alone and on their own can lead students to depression. A suicide expert writes, "Going to college can be a difficult transition period in which students may feel lost, lonely, confused, anxious, inadequate, and stressed. And these problems may lead to depression" (Caruso, 2007). Many students also note that they acknowledge they are depressed, but do not get help for their depression (Caruso, 2007).
Sadly, another major cause of student suicide is family dysfunction or stress. Several studies indicate that problems in the family, such as broken homes from divorce, abuse, and substance abuse, such as alcohol or drugs, are all aspects of a dysfunctional family life that can lead a student to at least contemplate suicide. It is interesting to note that family problems seem to be at least part of the problem with Seung Hui Cho, the killer at Virginia Tech. Cho himself was withdrawn throughout his childhood, but his family rarely spoke of him, or took part in local community activities, and some friends of the family did not know they had a son. The parents worked hard and seemed to have little time for their children, and this could have been another aspect of a dysfunctional family that helped lead to his depression and withdrawal (Cho & Gardner, 2007, p. 1-3). More about Cho and family dysfunction discussed below.
While the pressures of school, home, and friends can all lead to depression and feelings of suicide, just being young can also be part of the problem. Three researchers continue, "Young adulthood is a time when the highest ideals of the self, along with its most destructive components, are openly and intensely experienced. It is quite understandable that questions with regard to self-worth can become prominent" (Duane, Stewart & Bridgeland, 2003). This is a time of growth and change, and it can be a time of feeling different, not fitting in, and being unattractive or unpopular. While many students may hope to put these feelings behind them in college, in reality, they can intensify when college is too stressful, they are working too hard, or they are not coping well with being away from home and being on their own. Suicidal thoughts seem more common today, as well, as there is more talk about suicide and more acknowledgement that it exists, which did not occur a few generations back.
In addition, there seems to be greater acceptance and even "advocacy" among many college students today about suicide. Three writers continue "Today's culture induces a greater consciousness of suicide as an option for college students by producing sub-cultures of acceptance or even advocacy" (Duane, Stewart & Bridgeland, 2003). This acceptance could lead someone who might be considering suicide to actually attempt suicide, and might lead others to at least think about it where it might not have been an option or even thought about before. There also seem to be more instances of violence toward others combined with suicide on college campuses. One of the most recent examples is the massacre at Virginia Tech, where a bullied student shot 32 other students and faculty before turning the gun on himself. The student, Seung Hui Cho, had been treated for mental illness while a student at the university, and had displayed many signs of depression and withdrawal. Two Washington Post reporters note, "Cho was unusually quiet as a child, relatives said. He did not respond to greetings. He did not want to be hugged. But when Cho fought with his older sister, he would punch her with shocking violence" (Cho & Gardner, 2007, p. 1). Throughout middle and high school he refused to talk, even if called upon in class, and he wrote about violence and evil. All of these are warning signs of depression and suicidal thoughts, and yet Cho did not get the help he desperately needed to keep him from taking his own life and the lives of so many others.
What are the warning signs of student suicidal thoughts? First, long-term depression and loss of hope are both strong signs of student suicide. Students thinking of suicide may often seem hopeless or full of despair, and make comments like "I can't go on anymore" or "Nothing matters, anyway." They may gain or lose a lot of weight, or act compulsively. They may also give away their possessions, write a will, or neglect their personal appearance. They may act recklessly or irrationally, and they may lose interest in everyday activities (Caruso, 2007). These are just some of the warning signs of suicide, and they should be taken seriously. Depression in young adults is often ignored, and depression is the leading cause of suicide in college students and young adults, so it is vital to watch for these signs and others that could be symptoms of depression or suicidal thoughts. If you have a friend or loved one that is showing these signs of depression and suicide, try to get them to get help and attention as soon as possible. If your college does not have a suicide prevention group or organization, start one, and make sure that students know about it.
What can you do if you think a friend is suicidal? First, you can try to talk to them and urge them to get help. Many people do not acknowledge they are feeling depressed or seek help for their depression, and depression is the leading cause of suicide in young people. Just admitting they are feeling depressed may be the impetus some people need to get help, so do not ignore the signs of depression and suicide, and do not assume they will simply go away. Urge them to call a suicide hotline to talk to a trained counselor, or call the hotline yourself to get ideas about what you can do to help. Do not ignore symptoms like giving away possessions or writing a will, either. These are serious clues that something is not right, and to ignore them is to do your friend a great disservice. Realize that college can be an extremely stressful experience and that people react to stress in different ways. Three researchers continue, "The ambiguity underlying the experience of…