Although college years can be a time of excitement and challenge, many students experience difficulty with the changes and pressures that can be part of the college experience. When psychological difficulties and emotional pain become intolerable, they can result in suicidal thoughts and attempts. Thoughts of suicide are not uncommon among college students; in fact, a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in 2000 estimates that one in ten students has considered suicide. Importantly, suicidality is not an isolated phenomenon; estimates are that at least 95% of suicidal thoughts and attempts are associated with depression, a treatable condition. Fortunately, the vast majority of students experiencing suicidal thoughts do not make an attempt, and the vast majority of attempts do not result in actual suicides.
We all experience feelings of loneliness, depression, helplessness, and hopelessness from time to time. The death of a family member, the breakup of a relationship, injuries to our self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, academic difficulties, and/or financial setbacks are serious problems that most of us can expect to face at some point in our lives. Each person's emotional makeup is unique, and each of us responds to situations differently, so even something that may seem of minor importance to one person can be extremely distressing to another.
Regardless of the nature of the crisis, if a person feels overwhelmed, without options, and/or is clinically depressed, there is danger that suicide may represent a solution to her. Because intense emotional distress can blind people to alternative solutions and available resources, suicide may appear to be the way out of an intolerable situation or unbearable pain. The tragedy is, of course, is that other solutions can always be created.
While some suicides occur without warning, most people at risk show some sign of their distress:
“I don’t know how much longer I can take this.”
“My family would be better off without me.”
“I walked right out in front of traffic again today…it’s
like I don’t even care.”
The stress of being a college student makes suicide more likely.
Actually, statistical evidence indicates that suicide is less frequent among college students than among their same-age peers who are not students.
Being at a prestigious, selective college makes suicide more likely.
No relationship has been found between student suicide rates and institutional prestige or size, nor to one's class standing.
If a person is seriously considering suicide, there is nothing anyone can do about it.
Most suicidal crises are time-limited, and are based on serious depressive symptoms, including distorted or unclear thinking and an experience of intolerable emotional pain. A person considering suicide does not want death so much as an escape from her pain, and can be helped in several ways. First, she will benefit from simply knowing that help is available, and from having the support of others through the immediate crisis period. She can be helped to clarify and expand her perceptions of her situation so that she can see previously hidden alternatives, or reconsider those that she had decided were impossible or unacceptable. She can be helped to understand that intolerable pain is usually, in fact, barely tolerable pain – and can be survived. Most important, she can receive treatment for depression, which involves psychotherapy that may be augmented by antidepressant medications.
Don’t ask a depressed person about suicide, because you might give her the idea.
Emotional crises themselves trigger the thought of suicide in a vulnerable person. Your openness and concern in asking about it can allow her to feel less lonely or isolated, and perhaps a bit relieved. Asking this question shows caring – and it will also provide you with an opportunity to support her in getting help.
Regardless of the nature of the crisis, if a person feels overwhelmed, without options, and/or is clinically depressed, there is danger that suicide may represent a solution to her. Because intense emotional distress can blind people to alternative solutions and available resources, suicide may appear to be the way out of an intolerable situation or unbearable pain. The tragedy is, of course, is that other solutions can alwaysbe created.
Remember that, although it can feel like it will never end, depression is not a permanent condition, and emotional pain can be survived. Take action now to get support for yourself, and help with your depression.
Numbers that Barnard students can call for immediate help are:
Columbia University numbers include:
Other resources include New York City crisis intervention hotlines…
…as well as the nearest hospital emergency room:
Other things that you can do over time to help yourself:
You can find more information visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention