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Mental Health Center

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Ten Percent of College Students Considered Suicide During Previous Year


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 Brener.

"Our take-home message is that colleges and universities should establish suicide prevention programs that address the related problems of substance use or improve upon existing programs. The CDC recommends that programs should rely on multiple prevention strategies because we don't know what actually works in terms of suicide prevention," Brener tells WebMD.

Keith King, PhD, a researcher in adolescent suicide prevention at the University of Cincinnati, sees physicians as part of a triangle of resources to identify and prevent adolescent suicide, including the community, family and friends, and the school. In an interview seeking objective commentary, King tells WebMD that "It is imperative that physicians know the warning signs and risk factors of suicide. Warning signs include talking about suicide, giving things away, being depressed or lethargic, losing interest in once-pleasurable activities, and becoming isolated. Risk factors include substance use, being female, easy access to handguns, and feeling lonely and disconnected."

In his experience, Keith has found that while a professional may know the risk factors of suicide, identifying a child at risk often proves to be difficult. "The reality is that there are many of these adolescents who visit a physician who could be helped if the physician knew the warning signs of suicide and follows-up on them."

Vital Information:

  • Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, and a survey of college students shows that 10% admit to seriously considering suicide.
  • Those who consider suicide are significantly more likely to engage in risk behaviors, such as cigarette smoking; episodic heavy drinking; marijuana, cocaine, or other illegal drug use; or a combination of such behaviors.
  • Students who live with a spouse or domestic partner, or who belong to a sorority or fraternity, are less likely to think about suicide.
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