Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The writer has asked me to remove his name and the brief post that originally appeared here.

CM Moderator


Half of college students consider suicide
Survey finds widespread problem demands new approach to treatment
msnbc.com and NBC News

AUSTIN, Texas — More than half of American college students have considered suicide at some points in their lives, a new survey reveals.

The survey, results of which were presented Sunday at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association in Boston, adds to the growing body of evidence that the prevalence of suicidal thoughts is far more widespread among America’s college students than it is among the population in general. By contrast, only 15.3 percent of Americans overall have had such thoughts, the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Survey Initiative reported in February.

The survey, part of a wider-ranging continuing study on student suicidal behaviors being conducted by David Drum, a professor of education psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, questioned 26,000 undergraduate and graduate students at 70 U.S. institutions. The results raise the startling suggestion that suicidal thoughts could be a common experience on par with substance abuse, depression and eating disorders, Drum said.

The survey defined considering suicide as having at least one episode of suicidal thinking at some point. Slightly more than half of students said they fit that category, which is known as suicide ideation. When researchers asked about more serious episodes, 15 percent said they had “seriously considered” attempting suicide.


  1. This is a very touchy subject for me. I wrote this just over two years ago on RYS after someone else suggested the same thing:


    Arthur from Alabama, I'm sure you have good intentions. Sounds like you've dealt with suicide. So have I. My student's suicide was not the first suicide in my life. I even - as the article suggests - had suicidal thoughts myself when I was younger. To me, the article was not a shocking revelation.

    But we just cannot take care of the students as if they were our own children. I start each semester with at least 110 of them. What would you suggest I do?

  2. About once a year a student tells me that he or she is suicidal. These conversations usually start with the student doing poorly in class, showing up at office hours, mentioning having "problems" and then, when I give my usual "Are you having thoughts of self-harm?" rap...the kid says something like OH MY GOD YES and we take a little walk to Psych Services. I feel like some kind of psychological St. Bernard.

    I think a lot of students just never end up in my office in the first place.

    So...how do I know about the ones that don't show up? This is a nagging question for me.

    To be honest? I wish this wasn't my job. I wish that they DID have "psychological resilience." I say this as someone who attempted suicide shortly after passing my qualifying exams. I just...ugh. Me? Helping them? It's the blind leading the blind. Or...um...the already-drunk-St.-Bernard leading the partially intoxicated climber.

    Sorry for the bummer...it's that time of year -- for me, and for them.

  3. I'm sorry, but we cannot become our students' parent. I care greatly about my students. I want them to succeed, I care about their health problems and what's happening in their lives. It's part of why I don't mind the mandated journals they have to keep -- lets me get to know them a little better than 40 hours in class can. In fact, we already act more like parents than most of their parents do by setting guidelines and ground rules, then sticking by them.

    What I can't do is emotionally parent up to fifty adults only slightly younger than me. I can't do that AND grade their papers AND make sure they understand the material. Once I start becoming their counselor there's the real chance that a student suffering some emotional difficulties will be graded far easier than another student. How in the hell is that fair, or objective? Do you know how many new instances of "She just didn't like me (or "I wasn't depressed/anxious/whatever") enough to pass me/give me an A.

    Besides that, I have a hard time finding time for my own studies as it is. It isn't my job to become their counselor. Sometimes yes, I do cross that line for a student or two and they know they can come to me and we'll talk, but I am NOT their shrink. And I shouldn't be. Believe me, if you're coming to me for help, you're coming to the wrong person anyway. Much better if I send you over to counseling services or tell you about freebie stuff through the county so somebody can really assess what's going on with them.

    Arthur, I'm sorry for whatever is happening in your life that this seems poignant, but please don't come here guilting us for things we cannot do.

  4. give me an A" I'd hear? *

    Damn early mornings...

  5. What the fuck is wrong with parents these days that their kids get to college without being able to deal with life? If a D in my class is going to send them off the edge, what will happen when they graduate, get a job, and get laid off? Or have a kid that gets sick? Or some other REAL emergency that happens to everyone at some point in their life?

  6. Well of course they think about suicide, dammit. As the immortal movie *Heathers* put it, whether or not to commit suicide is one of the most important decisions a teenager can make.

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  8. That last post made no sense. Refer them to help. Period.

  9. I distinctly remember the day one April that I discovered three things:

    a) the exam which I had thought was in 2 1/2 weeks was in three days;
    b) this meant that the 2 wildly overdue papers I thought I had 2 1/2 weeks to write had to be handed in in 3 days also; and
    c) my grandmother actually had died that morning, and the funeral was the day before the exam.

    But, as the Dean pointed out when I went to ask for advice, I had not exactly built up any goodwill with the professor, because in addition to the 2 wildly overdue papers, I had not actually attended class since the previous November.

    In retrospect the thing to do would have been to take my F and move on. What I did instead was to go 72 hours without sleep, skip my grandmother's funeral to write both papers, and then write the exam based on what I'd learned in writing the papers, and come out with a well-earned D.

    But before I did those things, the thought did cross my mind, "if I killed myself I wouldn't have these problems". This frightened me silly, because the thought actually stayed in my brain for a bit instead of just sliding in one side and out the other. So I went to talk to one of the student counsellors, who talked me down. Then I wrote the papers, and so on. I'm still sorry I missed my grandmother's funeral, but I'm sure she understood.

    The thing is, they are under phenomenal stress, and they are young, and it's the first time they've run into this kind of stress. This doesn't mean that their parents were worthless, and it doesn't mean that they will never be able to handle stress at all ever. It means they're 19. There's a learning curve to handling stress, and to managing your time. They're still at the bottom end of it. They'll learn, and they'll come out as responsible adults, almost all the time.

    It's my job to refer them to Counselling Services if they appear to be under stress. I do that quite regularly. It's not only not my job to counsel them myself (or parent them or whatever) - it's not my training, and the chances of my screwing it up completely if I try are definitely not zero. So as I hand over the Kleenex I have a stock speech.

    "Have you spoken to Counselling Services? They're really very good. You'd be astonished how many students are having problems very similar to yours, and the counsellors are really good at helping students through this kind of stress. Also, a note from counselling could help you get a deferral or a late drop if you decide you need that. Here's their number. They're right by the bookstore."

    The other key thing is not to be punitive when students come to me in a state of high stress - or email me without saying much. This is NOT my area of expertise. I can't tell between the ones that are genuinely under stress and the ones that are just gaming the system. The counsellors can, and even if they can't, I don't care. Just tell me the kid needs more time, a deferral, whatever, something I can give them, and I will. I would rather give out 1000 undeserved extensions than have one student go off the deep end because I wouldn't. I'm not their parent, but I"m not their jailer, either.

  10. I feel bad that some people have such a separation between themselves and those around them that a sterile job description would prevent them from reaching out.

    When I worked at a law firm, I had hundreds of co-workers. As one might imagine, law firms are ripe for suicidal tendencies. Our interns were often kids under a shit-ton of pressure: parents unaware of how much they leaned on their kids potential success, lack of money from the long hours and no pay, fear about their future, etc.

    I didn't see a lot of the kids, we were always busy, but when one began thinking that way, the way I once felt as a teen myself, it always seemed obvious. And I always reached out when I saw the change.

    I do it with my students now. Call me a creep, sure, fine. But it takes, literally, an average of 10 minutes every other week. Yes, I find them that often. And a well-placed note tends to shake them out of it and get them to the help they need. I had a grad advisor do the same for me when I had a bad spot of emotional bother (surprise divorce) and helped me just when I needed it most.

    My parents were on the other coast. I was 26 at the time. Why would I tell them what I was feeling when all I wanted was to quietly disappear?

    It isn't about parenting. It's about being an emotional being. I suspect those who do not notice also do not notice when their siblings or friends have the same issues.

    Not parenting. Being social.

  11. Being social, sure. Asking "is everything okay?" when I've noticed that it pretty clearly isn't is simple human kindness. (And if they say "no", then refer them to counselling.)

    On the other hand I had over 300 students this term, so in most cases, I was unlikely to notice, and I am not going to beat myself up over this. With that kind of student load I consider it a triumph if I can learn 1/5 of their names.

    Making a connection with students is wonderful, when we can do that. But I think our ideas of how responsible we are for our students' emotional welfare varies wildly with our institutional culture and, simply, with our workload. If I only had 30 students a semester I'd know them a lot better and be able to spot when they aren't doing well. As it is, I focus on getting the content into them on schedule and getting their grades back on time. More or less.


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