Did you know? 24,000 American college students attempt suicide annually. Out of these 24,000, 1,100 of them are successful.
Every year 1,100 families lose a son, daughter, brother, or sister.
Every year someone loses a friend, a colleague, or a partner.
So, why are depression and suicide so prevalent among college students?
Unfortunately, this question isn’t able to be answered simply, and untangling this disastrous web isn’t exactly black and white.
There is, however, one thing we can be certain of: 1,100 suicides is 1,100 suicides too many.
The Major Life Transition Into College:
Many teens often dream of the day they get to pack up their belongings and begin the college journey of personal freedom.
While it’s easy to get carried away with the thought of creating your own rules, decorating your dorm room, and breaking out of the shelter from childhood, many adolescents fail to consider the strain this major life transition can bring on their mental health.
For most, this is the first time living away from the safety and comfort of home. With newfound personal freedom comes adult responsibilities. Not only this, but living away from home means less access to support from family.
Increased academic expectations, adjustment to a new environment, and easier access to alcohol and substances can create a slippery slope for depression and anxiety.
Depression In College Students:
According to the American Psychological Association, 36.4% of college students suffer from depression. This statistic is only expected to grow as our society and economy still reel from the effects of the pandemic.
We all have heard the stigma of the “broke college student” but this rings true when you look into the cupboards of most undergraduates. These poor eating habits combined with a lack of exercise can often lead students down a rabbit hole of depression.
School Work / Social Life Balance:
Not only is nutrition playing a role, but academic stress can greatly exacerbate feelings of hopelessness, defeat, and exhaustion. Most college students are required to take a full course load in order to obtain financial aid, which equates to anywhere from 60-72 hours of studying outside the classroom, per week.
For many, the desire to do well often comes with isolation as they find there are simply not enough hours in the day. For college students who attend out-of-state universities, this can be detrimental to keeping a healthy social life.
College students suffering from depression are at a much greater risk of developing a reliance on substances such as alcohol, or illicit drugs, as a means to cope. When the weekend comes, many college students aim to get as drunk as possible to release pent-up anxiety and stress from academic life.
This can often make mental health conditions worse both in the moment and over time.
How To Spot Depression:
Whether it’s you, or someone close to you, it’s crucial to understand how to spot symptoms of depression.
Often, those who suffer from depression feel as though their mental illness is a burden and aren’t likely to reach out for help.
Not only this, but many college students are experiencing depression for the first time and may feel lost or confused in handling it.
With 12% of college students feeling SO depressed they couldn’t function, being aware of the warning signs may just save someone’s life.
So, how can you tell if depression is present?
Look for these key symptoms:
- Negative emotions: anger, frustration, irritability, or sadness
- Irregular appetite: This can range from binge eating, to skipping meals altogether.
- Irregular sleeping habits: Does your roommate sleep all day all of the sudden? Or, maybe they complain of insomnia out of the blue. Irregularities in sleep are common in those with depression.
- No longer interested in extracurricular activities: Anhedonia, or, loss of interest in things that once made you happy, is one of the easiest ways to spot depression in a loved one.
- Unmotivated in academics: If you, or someone you know was once fully invested in their studies and now have begun to push them aside, it could be depression.
Suicide In College Students:
Suicide is the third most common cause of death for adolescents and young adults aged 15-24.
While attending college is smack in the middle of that age range, this leads us to ask: why are college students committing suicide?
Pre-Existing Mental Illness:
Many college students show up on their first day with suitcases full of clothing, supplies, and room decor. They also come with depression.
90% of college students that commit suicide are diagnosed with a mental illness prior to taking their own life.
Having a history of mental illness, combined with environmental stressors, transitional change, and easy access to substances can cause those with depression to fall further and further.
Other Life Events:
While battling the difficulties of academic life, many college students end up going through traumatic and stressful events at the same time.
Death of a family member, sexual assault, and relationship heartbreak can all seem even harder than they already are due to the lack of familial support, and expectation to continue schoolwork while in the midst of pain.
This can lead to feelings of despair, isolation, and both emotional and mental fatigue.
Risk Factors For Suicide In College Students:
While most suicidal students don’t want to die, they often see no way out of their pain.
Who’s most at risk of developing suicidal thoughts or actions?
- Students with a family history of depression or suicide
- Students with a history of suicide attempts
- Students with access to firearms
- Students dealing with racism, discrimination, or prejudice
- Students with a history of abuse
- Students suffering from academic problems
- Students suffering a loss such as a death or breakup
- Students in poverty or lower socioeconomic class
So, How Can You Make A Difference?
While this heartbreaking problem can seem overwhelming at first, there are ways you can make a positive impact on your University campus.
If you feel as though someone close to you may be depressed offer support and guidance. Allow them to talk openly without judgment. While giving them positive advice is tempting, oftentimes it falls short when someone is truly depressed. Practice active listening and encourage them that you want to help.
If you suspect someone may be suicidal, it’s often best to ask directly. Though it’s an uncomfortable subject for some, it’s better to be upfront (without accusing) than to beat around the bush.
College suicides can be affected by many factors, and it can be difficult to pin down exactly what the root cause may be. As difficult as this is, it’s easy to simply be there and offer empathy and reassurance to those in need.