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Health & Safety

September Is Suicide Prevention Month

Lori Bender

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September is National Suicide Prevention Month in the U.S.

This month, mental health organizations and schools bring awareness to this continued public health problem by offering awareness, education, support, and trainings for both parents and students.

Tragically, this is also a season when we hear about campus suicides. As we get deeper into a new academic year, here are things to know about youth and young adult suicide.

What the Statistics Tell Us

  • Suicide among our nation’s youth (ages 10–24) accounts for 14% of all suicides in our country. For the age group 15–24, suicide is the third most common cause of all deaths.
  • The good news is that, statistically, the rate of suicide for these ages (number of completed suicides, not attempts), dropped between 2018 and 2021, and the rate is below the national average.
  • However, according to the CDC, 20% of teens surveyed reported seriously considering suicide. In addition, in 2021, over 27% of college students were diagnosed with depression or other mood disorders.
  • Teen and college student death by suicide remains alarming, as young adults continue to struggle with life challenges, transition, mental health, and personal issues.

While a sensitive topic that families and students don't always feel comfortable discussing, attempted or completed death by suicide is something that any college student might indirectly or directly experience this semester. For each death by suicide, 135 other acquaintances (friends, roommates, co-workers, teammates, relatives) are affected by the experience.

Starting College Is a Stressful Transition

One of the biggest stressors for college students is the transition from high school to college. No matter how much they looked forward to and prepared for college, it's a period marked by extreme emotions and pressures, intimidating and frustrating “firsts,” and sometimes overwhelming feelings of depression, anxiety, and insecurity.

For the first time, students must make independent decisions, manage multiple demands, feel real loneliness, solve conflicts, and navigate difficult feelings. Academic demands are intense. Support systems may not be solid — or students may hesitate to reach out for the help they need.

The weight of these struggles can mask the reality that help is available. As parents, peers, professionals, friends, and mentors, we all play a critical role in helping students overcome feelings of despair, helplessness, and hopelessness, and preventing death by suicide.

Here's How to Start

1. Have open dialogue.

The most important and effective way to safeguard student mental health is to have open dialogue about anything related to mental health. It's okay to be direct when talking about suicidal thoughts, ideation, and plans.

Create a safe space to support these conversations. Don't be afraid to talk about suicide despite feeling uncomfortable, or to ask your student how they are self-managing. Ask open-ended questions. Listen intently and notice nuances. Ask about social connections, self-care, and wellness habits like sleep, exercise, and stress management.

Refrain from secrecy and unsolicited advice. Let your student know they are safe, supported, and not judged.

2. Check in on a regular basis.

Some students arrive on campus with a mental health diagnosis or undiagnosed mental struggles. In fact, one national survey states 41% of college students report having symptoms of depression.

Diagnoses or not, checking in regularly with your student does not mean you are helicoptering. Stay in touch through ways that your student is most likely to respond. Get to know their roommates if there's an opportunity. Know what's going on in your student's daily life (even if you don't talk that often).

Ask, “How are you really doing?” Create a verbal bond that encourages them to seek you (or someone else) out. As the adult, shed the shame of staying connected with your student despite society convincing you that you are overprotective. There's a difference between hovering over and solving your child’s problems for them and simply listening to their voice, laying eyes on their appearance, and noticing behavior changes.

3. Know the risk factors and warning signs.

The state of students’ mental health plays a critical role in risk factors for suicide. Knowing warning signs of suicidal thoughts and ideas and of depression is your main mode of protection and prevention should your student become incapable of managing mental distress.

Listen to your intuition when you feel something is off. Do they talk about giving up, not being able to "do this" anymore? Ask about sexual trauma, feelings of isolation. Is there verbiage such as wishing to end pain? Have there been family issues or mental health struggles? Are mood swings severe enough to be concerning? Has sexual orientation and identity been a challenge? Is withdrawing from usually enjoyable activities a new behavior? Are academics slipping? Is there a preoccupation with death? Has there been increased risk-taking behavior such as caring less about being injured or killed? Is your student giving away possessions?

Ask, ask, ask. Pay attention to factors that would increase the risk of wanting to die by suicide. This list is not exhaustive.

Remember, all mentions or jokes about suicide should be taken seriously.

Know the FACTS About Suicide:

  • Most people who threaten suicide want to live.
  • Talking about suicide does not cause people to complete death by suicide.
  • Most suicide attempts are behaviors expressing deep psychological pain and distress.
  • Even when a person decides to talk about suicide, this does not mean the risk of them completing suicide is nonexistent.
  • Most suicidal people do give warnings of intention, and this can go unrecognized or unnoticed by friends and family.
  • Over 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder.
  • Males are four times more likely to die by suicide than females. Females are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide with nonlethal means.
  • Not all individuals who consider suicide appear sad or depressed.

More information about suicide risk and prevention from the Mayo Clinic >

Suicide Crisis and Help Lines

988 (the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) is the easiest to remember. There are both on- and off-campus local help lines, as well as national help lines.

  • Create both a national and local list of services and support. Make sure both you and your student keep this accessible.
  • Have a trusted local support system and plan of action written out.
  • Never, ever leave a student who expresses thoughts of suicide. Stay with them until professional help arrives.
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Lori Bender, MSW is a licensed stress management coach for teenagers and college students. She founded Students Stress Less Coaching LLC, a virtual stress and anxiety management service for students, five years ago and has worked with students across the country. She is also creator of “Everything but Books – 8 Skills to Self-Manage and Thrive in College.” Lori has two passion projects in her community, Dress for Success and The Phoenix – Rise, Recover, Live. Lori has been married to the same dude for 30 years, moved with him to six different states, and has grown two awesome kiddos with him. Plants, hikes, workouts, and quiet time are her chosen de-stressors. Oh, and shopping and eating.
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