Ten Percent of College Students Considered Suicide During Previous Year
WebMD News Archive
Jan. 11, 2000 (New York) -- A study conducted by the CDC found that one in
ten college students admitted to having suicidal thoughts during the 12 months
preceding the survey. Doctors who interface with college-aged adolescents
should be alert to cues such as substance abuse that may alert them to suicide
risk, according to a study published in the Journal of Consulting and
"The field has gotten a big push recently from the surgeon general in
his call to action that suicide is a major problem, especially among young
people ... It's the third leading cause of death of people aged 15 to 24",
lead author Nancy D. Brener, PhD, of the CDC, tells WebMD. "Given that we
know from our study that those who use tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs are
at increased risk of having considered suicide, it's a potential place for
clinicians to intervene."
The data was collected in 1995 as part of the National College Health Risk
Behavior Survey that produced a nationally representative sample of
undergraduate college students aged 18 or older in two- and four-year U.S.
public and private colleges and universities. Almost 5,000 students completed
the 96-item questionnaire. Students were asked about suicidal thoughts and
actions in the preceding 12 months and whether they used tobacco, alcohol, or
Ten percent of the students admitted to seriously considering attempting
suicide during the 12 months preceding the survey. Seven percent said they had
made a suicide plan, 2% had attempted suicide at least once, and 0.4% had made
a suicide attempt that required medical attention.
The investigators found that students who considered suicide in the 12
months prior to the survey were significantly more likely to engage in such
risk behaviors as cigarette smoking, episodic heavy drinking, marijuana,
cocaine, or other illegal drug use, or combinations of such behaviors. For
instance, the odds of engaging in illegal drug use doubled among students who
had considered suicide than among those who had not.
"This study is cross-sectional, so we can't conclude about any kind of
causation. Given that it's possible that if substance abuse leads to suicidal
ideation, if a family practitioner could intervene with the substance use, then
it might not progress to become a situation of suicide ideation," says
Increased suicide risk was noted in some ethnic groups, such as Asians,
Pacific Islanders, American Indians, or Alaskan natives. Students who lived
with a spouse or domestic partner were less likely to consider suicide than
those who lived alone, with roommates or friends, or with parents or guardians.
Fraternity and sorority members were also less likely to think about suicide.
Suicidal ideation did not vary by gender or parents' education. "[T]hese
findings offer some support for previous research showing that social support
is often an important protective factor against suicidal behavior," writes