A growing number of college students are coping with mental illness. According to one study, the number of students seeking help
from campus mental health centers for depression doubled from1989 to 2001. The most frightening consequenceof depressionis suicide, which is the second leading cause of death in collegestudents.
A nationwide study revealed that nine percent of college students admitted to “seriously considering attempting suicide” at least once in the 2002-2003 school year.
Recent, highly publicized suicides at NYU emphasized theneed for education and outreach regarding this difﬁcult topic. While suicidalthinking or behavior does no t necessarily accompanydepression, 95 percent of people who attempt or commitsuicide are depressed.
Fortunately, both depressionand suicidehave warning signsthat an individual or his or her loved ones can identify, and help isavailable
and highly effective.
Most everyonewill experience feelings of sadness , anxiety, o rdespair at times in his or her life as normal reactions to events such as loss,rejection, or disappointment. Depression, however, is characterizedby persistent (lasting at least two wee ks) mood changes,
which may involve extreme feelings of sadness, irritability, guilt,
However, depression can also cause someone to seem to haveless feeling (i.e. they seem numb or detached). They may be eating
or sleeping more or less than usualand will frequentlyseem less interested in social activities,athletics, oracademics.
Increased substanceuse may also occur.A particularly important warning sign of depression that may lead to suicidal thinking is afeeling of hopelessness regarding the future.
Speciﬁc signs of potentialsuicide include: talking openlyabout committing suicide (itʼs a myth that people who are actually suicidal wonʼt talk about it!); talking indirectly about “wantingout” or “ending it all”; taking
unnecessary or life-threatening risks; giving away personal
possessions; and past suicide att empts. If someone suffers fromdepression,then substance abuse, anxiety, impulsivity, rage, and
hopelessness m ay increase their risk of suicide. It is also important
to remember that both depression and suicide have a genetic component and tend to run in families.
The most important thing to know if you notice a friend or loved one exhibiting the above signs is that you can help. You have good reason to be concerned, and you can take the following steps: Be honest and express your concerns. For example, say, “You seem really down lately. Is something bothering you?” Ask them directly about thoughts of suicide. For example, “Have you thought about hurting yourself?” If the answer is yes, it is important to get clariﬁcation about whether they have a plan to kill themselves. If they do, immediate intervention should occur, which will be discussed further below. Listen patiently and offer support. Convey that depression is a real, common, and treatable condition. Suicidal feelings are also real and treatable. Offer to accompany your friend to the campus counseling center or to an outside therapist.
If immediate action is required, do not leave the person alone. Get them to the nearest psychiatric facility or hospital emergency room. This may be accomplished by calling or walking them to the campus counseling center, driving them directly to an outside facility, or even calling 911 (especially if you are on the phone with the individual rather than physically with them).
You are trying to save a life, and no action should be considered too extreme. If less extreme action needs to be taken (i.e. the individual talks about feeling hopeless and contemplating suicide, but they do not have an actual plan or intention at that moment), help the person set up an appointment as soon as possible with a counselor either on or off campus.
It is imperative that the suicidal thoughts you have heard be taken seriously, and that help is sought. Even the most depressed peoplehavemixed feelings about death, and most d onʼt want to die; they simply want the pain to stop. The impulse to take their own lives does not last forever, and suicidal feelings are highly treatable. For anonymous, self-screening of possible depression or suicidal thinking, individuals can use Ulifeline.org, a free Web site launched by th e Jed Foundation. Ulifeline, which can also be accessed through the WCU Counseling Center and Health Center Web sites, also links students to health centers and information about issues including depression, eating disorders and suicide.