Dead Air and College Suicides

They say that college is supposed to be the best time of your life. And for most of us, that’s probably true. But did you know that at least 1 out of 6 students suffer from depression while in college and as many as 1100 a year take their own lives as apparently my classmate Sergio Pinez did?

Sergio’s death highlights a fact little known to many: suicide is the second leading cause of death among college-aged individuals!

Some of you who’ve already read Dead Air know that my mother committed suicide. I was just 7 years old at the time and it’s haunted me my whole life. Sergio’s suicide revived old nightmares and has made me search out the reasons why people kill themsleves.

I asked my boyfriend Reed Wyndham (he’s a med student and one of the “good ones”) to come on my campus radio show and talk about the subject. I thought I’d share some of things he said:

“Academic stresses together with the personal stresses students face from home (1 in 4 are children of divorce), from campus relationships, and from the difficulty of trying to make decisions about the direction of their lives, make all the college years an extremely challenging time for many.

Out from under the watchful eyes of parents, old friends, and high school teachers it is easier for emotional problems to go unnoticed. And that’s when the risk of suicide is high.

Excessive drinking on college campuses has almost become a rite of passage. For some students, the danger of developing alcoholism is quite real. And the risk of suicide among people hospitalized for alcoholism is 3-4 percent.

Depression is another risk for suicide. If someone has had an episode of major depression, his or her risk of suicide jumps to 15 percent

The problem is that when students feel overwhelmed or depressed, they are often reluctant to seek help. For many, especially males, it is seen as a sign of weakness.

Psychologists have categorized suicide into two groups: the attempters and the completers. As a generalization, the majority of people who attempt suicide are female (females suffer from depression twice as much as males). However, most of those who actually complete suicide are males. Sadly, often it is their first attempt. That’s why it is so important to recognize someone who is troubled and direct them to appropriate professional help.

Not everyone who gets the blues is depressed. It is a matter of degree. So how do you tell if someone is depressed? Some of the symptoms include sleep disturbances such as trouble staying asleep, chronic fatigue, social withdrawal, lack of motivation trouble concentrating, muddled thoughts, poor appetite, loss of interest in activities that used to be fun, decreased sexual drive, thoughts of hopelessness and desperation.

One of the myths about suicide is that it is genetic and runs in families. That’s not true. However, once suicide occurs in a family, other family members are at higher risk for committing suicide not because of heredity, but because the suicide victim leaves a legacy that includes permission to choose suicide as an escape from painful life experiences.

For parents, being able to help their child who is having these kinds of problems when they are living at home is challenging enough; when they are far away, it is that much more difficult. That’s why it is important to have a serious conversation before a child leaves for college, explaining that they should not be afraid to go for counseling if they experience any of the symptoms suggesting depression. And before sending a child to a particular college, check out the student health service including the available counseling services.

Parents and peers should be aware of the warning signs that could lead to suicide. These include

1) Changes in behavior such as comments that “the world would be a better place without me” or outright talk about suicide

2)Deterioration of normal functions such as skipping classes or sleeping all day,

3)Intense emotional state including agitation, rage or impulsive behavior

4) Precipitating event such as getting kicked off a college sports team, a relationship break-up, a failing grade can be a factor BUT know that there doesn’t have to be one stressful event to precede a suicide.

Bottom line: Confronting the issue of college suicide is the only way to prevent it.”

I hope this helps those who are, like me, in college now as well as those who will be entering in the future. It’s important!

And please, read Dead Air to find out how I work through my demons. Thanks!!

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