September is National Suicide Prevention Month in our country. This is the time of the school year when mental health organizations and universities bring awareness to this continued public health problem by offering awareness, education, support, and trainings for both parents and students. It is also the time when we hear about campus suicides.
Here are things about youth and young adult suicide to know as you enter a new semester.
Suicide among our nation’s youth (ages 10-24) accounts for 14% of all suicides in our country. For the age group 15-24, suicide is the third most common cause of all deaths.¹
The good news is that statistically, the rate of suicide for these ages (number of completed suicides, not attempts), dropped between 2018 and 2021, and the rate is below the national average. ²
However, according to the CDC, even in its latest research of 2019, 20% of teens surveyed reported seriously considering suicide. In addition, in 2021, over 27% of college were diagnosed with depression or other mood disorders. ³⁴⁵
Teens and college student death by suicide continues to be alarming, as young adults continue to struggle with life challenges, transition, mental health, and personal struggles.
While a sensitive topic that families and students still do not feel comfortable discussing, it is a possibility that death by suicide is something that any college students might indirectly or directly experience this semester. For each death by suicide, 135 other acquaintances are affected by the experience.⁶
One of the biggest stressors for college students is the transition from high school to college. It can be one of the most stressful times in a young person’s life – one challenged by extreme emotions and pressures, frightening and frustrating “firsts,” and overwhelming feelings of depression, anxiety, and insecurity.
For the first time students must make independent decisions, manage multiple demands, face untapped levels of stress, feel real loneliness, solve conflicts, and navigate difficult feelings. Academic demands are brutal. Support systems may not be solid. The risk factors can seem endless. ⁷
Emotionally, mentally, and physically, these the weight of these struggles mask the reality that help is available.
As parents, peers, professionals, friends, and mentors, we all play a critical role in helping students overcome feelings of despair, helplessness, and hopelessness, and preventing death by suicide.
Here is how to start:
1. Have open dialogue: It is OK to be direct when talking about suicidal thoughts, ideations, and plans. Create a safe space to support these conversations. The most important and effective way to safeguard student mental health is to have open dialogue about anything related to mental health. Do not be afraid to ask your student how they are self-managing. Ask open ended questions. Listen intently and notice nuances. Reframe from advice and secrecy. Do not be scared to talk about suicide despite feeling uncomfortable. Ask about social connections, self-care, and wellness habits like sleep, exercise, and stress management. Let your student know they are safe, supported, and not judged.⁸
2. Check-in on a regular basis: Some students arrive on campus with a mental health diagnosis or undiagnosed mental struggles. In fact, one national survey states 41% of college students report having symptoms of depression. Diagnoses or not, checking in on your student on a regular basis does not mean you are helicoptering. Stay in touch through ways that your student is most likely to respond. Talk to roommates. Be involved in their daily happenings. Ask, “How are you really doing?”. Create a verbal bond with your student that encourages them to seek you or someone out. As the adult, shed the shame of staying connected with your student despite society convincing you that you are overprotective. There is a difference between hovering over and solving your child’s problems for them and simply listening to their voice, laying eyes on their appearance, and noticing behavior changes.⁹
3. Know the risk factors and warning signs of suicide: The state of students’ mental health plays a critical role in risk factors of suicide. Knowing warning signs of suicidal thoughts and ideas, and of depression is your main mode of protection and prevention of your student’s mental health should they become incapable of managing mental distress. Listen to your intuition when you feel something is off. Is there a mention of giving up? Ask about sexual trauma, feelings of isolation. Is there verbiage such as wishing to end pain? Has there been family issues or mental health struggles? Are mood swings severe enough to be concerned? Has sexual orientation and identity been a challenge? Is withdrawing from usually enjoyable activities a new behavior? Are academics slipping? Is there a preoccupation with death? Has there been increased risk-taking behavior such as caring less about being injured or killed? Is your student giving away possessions. Ask, ask, ask. Pay attention to factors that would increase the risk of wanting to die by suicide. This list is not exhaustive.¹º¹¹
Remember, all mentions or jokes about suicide should be taken seriously.
4. Know the FACTS about Suicide:
(1). Most people who threaten suicide want to live.
(2). Talking about suicide does not cause people to complete death by suicide.
(3). Most suicide attempts are behaviors expressing deep psychological pain and distress.
(4). Even when a person decides to talk about suicide, this does not mean the risk of them completing suicide is nonexistent.
(5). Most suicidal people do give warnings of intention, and this can go unrecognized or unnoticed by friends and family.
(6.) Over 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder.
(7.) Males are four times more likely to die by suicide than females. Females are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide with nonlethal means.
(8.) Not all individuals who consider suicide (thoughts) appear sad or depressed.¹²
5. Be familiar with suicide crisis lines, help lines, and organizations.
988 is the easiest to remember. There are
both on and off campus local help lines,
as well as national help lines.
Lori Bender, MSW, Life and Wellness coach for students founded Students Stress Less Coaching LLC in 2016 to help high school and college students across the country learn how to effectively manage stress and anxiety. She uses her foundational program called "Everything but Books - 8 NECESSARY Skills to surTHRIVE College to coach students through the chaos of stress and anxiety. Lori has worked with universities, published articles for Grown and Flown and Collegiate Parent, and has run wellness workshops for students. She is an advocate for all things student wellness. FOLLOW Students Stress Less Coaching LLC:
TIKTOK - @schoolstressbegone