As Educators and Parents, What is Our Role In Suicide Prevention?

This fall, more than 20 million college students will head back to school. Of this group, nearly 6 million will be vulnerable to experiencing feelings of hopelessness and anxiety. Some 200,000 (or 1 in 100 students) will attempt to take their own life. As we recognize National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, we have an opportunity to examine our role as parents and educators in promoting good mental health among a group of young people for whom stress, depression, and self-injury are a growing concern.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college students after traffic accidents. Mental illness--depression specifically--plays a significant role in one's decision to attempt suicide but there are many other contributing factors.

The New York Times recently brought attention to the increased pressure of perfection that impacts suicide rates on college campuses. Meeting parental expectations, comparing their accomplishments -- or seeming lack thereof -- to those of their peers, and the overwhelming importance society has placed on earning good grades in order to succeed in life can escalate feelings of inadequacy and contribute to depression and related disorders.

(For what it's worth, some of today's greatest entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Richard Branson struggled to succeed in the classroom.)

Despite the many pressures on our young people, there is much we can do to prevent suicide, and it often starts with recognizing the warning signs. Has a normally gregarious child or student become withdrawn, anxious, lethargic or unusually irritable? Have they lost interest in activities that they used to enjoy? Have they expressed difficulties in their ability to concentrate, make decisions, or sleep? Have they shared thoughts or attempts to commit suicide? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it's time to take action and starting a conversation is the first step.

If you suspect a young person you care about is depressed encourage them to talk to you. Make it clear that you're willing and ready to provide support. Many colleges and universities offer free or low cost counselling and mental health services. Encourage students to take advantage of those offerings or those at a nearby hospital or medical center. Depression and other mental health problems can be treated and managed through a variety of medical, behavioral and psychological therapies.

Here at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, we work hard to ensure suicide prevention remains part of the mental health conversation. Last year, suicide prevention was the focus of our Naomi Ruth Cohen Institute Annual Community Health Conference. Eighteen discussion groups with industry leading experts were held where all voices of those affected by the tragedy of suicide could contribute to the dialogue focused on creating a larger and more effective movement to prevent suicide.

We also partner with the Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide (PIPS), an organization in Northern Ireland that was formed by individuals who have experienced the devastation that accompanies the suicide of a family member. PIPS provide education, training and support in the area of suicide prevention and recovery. The organization also works with The Chicago School to provide hands-on experience for graduate students, including the development of suicide awareness curriculum. Additionally, to further strengthen their training, the Clinical Doctoral Program (Psy.D.) at our Los Angeles Campus is now requiring that all students who are enrolled in practicum courses attend a 6.5 hour suicide prevention workshop called Assessing the Managing Suicide Risk. Participating students will receive a certificate from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Faculty are also encouraged to attend, and can receive required Continued Education Units.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that one in four college-aged adults lives with a diagnosable mental illness. Parents and educators can help these young people enjoy longer, healthier, and more fulfilling lives by committing to greater support while always working to improve access to high quality, culturally competent and age appropriate mental health services on college campuses and communities.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.