Suicide Risk

The percentage of students who try to kill themselves may be increasing, a new study suggests.
March 29, 2005

Five percent of college students in a new study said that they had attempted suicide while in college.

That number is significantly higher than those from several other studies of students and their propensity to try to kill themselves. Several studies have placed that figure at only 1 to 2 percent. While researchers said that they believed their findings were important and demonstrated the seriousness of the suicide problem in higher education, they also said that older students were not adequately represented in the study.

The new study -- which involved interviews with 1,865 students at four large universities -- has been accepted for publication in Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, the journal of the American Association of Suicidology. The study was conducted by six researchers, led by John S. Westefeld, a professor of counseling psychology at the University of Iowa.

The article says that its data suggest that suicide attempts on campuses are increasing and that "this is one of the most significant findings of this study." But it also notes that "it may be the case that what is occurring is that more students are reporting attempts."

The survey also found that of the students in the sample:

  • 40 percent had known someone who had attempted suicide.
  • 28 percent had known someone who had committed suicide.
  • 24 percent had thought about attempting suicide.
  • 9 percent had made a suicide threat.

While the universities in the survey -- and colleges generally -- have many services for students who are depressed or suicidal, the study noted an "alarming" statistic: Only 26 percent of students were aware of the services available.

Students who had attempted suicide were asked about the circumstances that made them suicidal. The following table shows the factors cited by these students (who could pick as many factors as applied):

  • Stress related to college: 100 percent
  • Trouble with relationships: 100 percent
  • Family problems: 100 percent
  • Depression: 100 percent
  • Hopelessness: 100 percent
  • Anxiety: 82 percent
  • Financial stress: 78 percent
  • Feelings of social isolation: 76 percent
  • Problems with work: 29 percent
  • Exposure to trauma: 29 percent
  • Involvement with drugs: 26 percent
  • Involvement with alcohol: 24 percent



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