Mental Health on Campus

25% of students receiving mental health services have seriously considered suicide, according to new national study.
April 21, 2009

One in every four college students who has sought mental health assistance in campus counseling centers has seriously considered suicide, according to a new national study of campus counseling centers.

The study -- released Monday in pilot form by the Center for the Study of Collegiate Mental Health, based on Penn State University -- found that 11 percent had seriously considered suicide prior to college only, 6 percent after starting college only, and 8 percent both before and during college. The percentage of students who reported making a suicide attempt was smaller: 8 percent, 5 percent prior to college only, 2 percent at college only, and 1 percent both prior to and at college.

However, a total of 21 percent of students reported having made a non-suicidal self-injury.

The findings are from a pilot project attempting to gather better information about the counseling needs of college students. More than 28,000 students receiving mental health services participated in the survey, which was conducted at 66 colleges and universities during the fall of 2008.

Other findings:

  • 95 percent said that they had never intentionally harmed another person, while 3 percent had done so prior to college and 2 percent in college.
  • A slim (51 percent) majority of those in the survey had prior counseling experience: 19 percent prior to college, 18 percent after starting college, and 15 percent both prior to enrolling and in college.
  • One third of students reported prior use of psychiatric medications, with 10 percent reporting use prior to college, 14 percent only after starting college, and 11 percent both prior and in college.
  • Only 5 percent of students reported receiving drug or alcohol treatment either prior to or while enrolled in college.
  • About 15 percent of females and 4 percent of males in the study reported moderate to high levels of concern about eating and body image issues. Among gay male students, the figure was 16 percent. Among women, white women were slightly more likely to have such concerns.

Students in the survey were asked to report their grade-point averages, and the researchers found a link between mental health and academic performance. The average G.P.A. for those who never considered suicide was 3.12, while those who had considered suicide had an average of 3.04 and those who had made a suicide attempt had an average of 2.98.

The study also found a link between prevalence of binge drinking (defined in the study as five or more drinks in a row for men, and four for women) and grades. A majority of students reported not having engaged in binge drinking over the two weeks prior to the survey, but a minority engaged in binge drinking frequently, with apparent academic consequences.

Self-Reported Binge Drinking Frequency Over Period of Two Weeks, and G.P.A.

Prevalence Percentage of Students in Survey G.P.A.
None 57.8% 3.19
Once 16.3% 3.11
Twice 11.6% 3.06
3-5 times 10.8% 3.04
6-9 times 2.4% 2.98
10 or more times 1.1% 2.95


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