The Link Between College Students and Suicide

Close up of woman crying.

There is much we know about the challenges faced by college students. For most, college represents freedom, a chance to meet new people, and to take the reigns and chart a course for future success. However, what we are only beginning to discover (or admit) is that the added weight of new academic, social, and personal responsibility is proving too much for many young people to handle. The sad fact is that, rather than seek help, a portion of struggling students turn to suicide.

In recent years, suicide has become one of the top five causes of death worldwide for children between the ages of 15 and 19, according to the World Health Organization. In the US, that rate is even higher: suicide is frequently cited as the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15-24. Further, according the the National Alliance for Mental Health, over 7% of students surveyed admitted that they’d seriously considered suicide at some point. That number doesn’t include students who are too frightened or ashamed to admit it.

So what is it about the college experience that makes life difficult for so many? The answer is complex.

Why College Students?

They have their whole lives ahead of them…why would they commit suicide?

This is the question that plagues teachers and parents alike. Recently, a group of scientists who reviewed articles on the subject of suicide dated between 1960 and 2013 found that institutional settings such as schools, military establishments, and hospitals, were more likely to experience “clusters” of suicides. In search of the commonalities that impact colleges specifically, an online news source, The Daily Beast, examined the top 50 most stressful colleges in the nation. Factors such as cost, acceptance rate, and competitiveness were immediately apparent.

The Drive to Succeed

A recent article in the New York Times examined the pressures put on many students, not only by parents and teachers, but by the students themselves. Students who typically excelled in high school expect to keep up the pace in college, but with larger classes, increased demands on their time, and more challenging subject matter, even academically gifted students may struggle. Further, what is exceptional in one school may be average in another: prestigious college prep schools produce arguably better results than students whose access to specialized programs are limited by money, geography, or both.

However, if they manage to make it through the difficult acceptance process, these students will all wind up attending the same colleges, with the same curriculum, regardless of their backgrounds. Financially speaking, the extra burden of student loans (or the knowledge that their parents provided the money to assist them) or the thought that parents are working extra or doing without just to provide for their education, is a tipping point for some students. Those who receive grants or scholarships may endure additional pressures as they fight to maintain their benefits or compete with other applicants to receive additional funding. Others may work one or even two jobs to make ends meet, which limits their ability to participate in extra curricular activities or get involved with college life and social activities.

The Mental Health Link

While college counseling centers represent a good outlet for many teens, the could be a lot better. Outreach is a big part of the problem, as one of the greatest obstacles is the stigma that comes from seeking help. Despite attention in the media, issues like mental illness, depression, and even stress, are viewed as weaknesses so that even when appropriate resources are available, students don’t always take advantage of them.

But the stigma extends to admissions and university policies as well. Some prestigious colleges have policies in place that require students to withdraw and reapply if they seek treatment in a mental health facility. Ostensibly, this is to ensure the student receives complete care, but the trouble with reentry and the procedures for returning make it seem to some that these schools are only protecting their own reputations. One student in the New York Times article said she feared she would have trouble being readmitted to the school if she sought treatment. According to the article: “Elite colleges often make it difficult for students to take time off, and readmission is not always guaranteed, something frequently cited as a deterrent to getting help.”

The fear of not being readmitted, of “wasting” money on classes that are challenging, of not living up to the expectations developed in high school and earlier – all point to a deeper fear of failure that can be all-consuming to a young adult. So in fact, instead of feeling as if they have their whole lives ahead of them, many college students feel it’s the end. And there is only so much a concerned friend or relative can do.

What Can You Do

Tragically, despite the best intentions of parents, teachers, and counselors, suicide is still a serious risk for many college students. Parents should be aware of the resources available to their children, and encourage them to take advantage of the assistance, even if they choose not to discuss it with their families. In addition to traditional counseling, college campuses may offer informal peer groups where young adults can discuss topics and find advice, assistance, and referrals from other students with similar challenges. There are also numerous websites that contain useful information for students and parents who are uncomfortable speaking about the situation directly. For example, maintains an up-to-date list of resources for those who are seeking information about suicide prevention. This includes links to hotlines, as well as a series of articles on topics such as the warning signs of suicide, plus mental health topics such as PTSD and depression.

Finally, as always, if you believe someone is in immediate danger, call 911.

As remediation specialists, one of the most difficult aspects of clean up is witnessing first hand the long-term affects that suicide can have on the victim’s loved ones. If your family is faced with the prospect of remediation following a suicide or other death, consider trauma cleaning from the professionals at Aftermath Services. Our teams of discreet, compassionate technicians are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer your questions and provide you with caring assistance when you need it most.

Call us nationwide at 877-872-4339, or view our website for additional information.