Suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 15 and 34, according to a 2015 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
At Cal State Fullerton, University Police and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) take reports of suicidal thoughts or attempts.
In 2015, CSUF University Police received 11 calls of suicide ideation and attempts, two of which were forwarded from CAPS. They received 18 calls in 2016, 11 of those coming from CAPS, said University Police Capt. Scot Willey.
“Our numbers went down in 2016, as far as calls just to us, and the numbers quadrupled in the health center and with CAPS,” Willey said. “Hopefully that’s a good sign pointing that people are going to get help, they’re reaching out.”
Some of the calls included people who needed transportation to the hospital after taking too many pills, he said.
In 2017 so far, University Police received two calls, one of those coming from CAPS, Willey said.
The stress of being a college student is a major factor that can lead to suicidal ideations and suicide, Willey said.
University Police pays special attention on finals week for warning signs.
“We do see a rise in stress-related incidents usually around finals time,” Willey said. “We’ll tend to get calls of students having a negative reaction or acting out due to a perceived bad grade and so we respond accordingly, with understanding and care of what their outward reactions to stress factors are.”
The recent research is serious and worrisome, said Assistant professor of human communications studies Tara Suwinyattichaiporn.
College students today face unprecedented levels of stress because they often hold jobs while going to school full-time, she said.
She said the younger generation’s reliance on technology and social disconnectedness also leads to suicide concerns.
“A lot of this generation of college students are always in front of their screens rather than being out communicating with other people, having real social interaction,” Suwinyattichaiporn said, “That is one of the reasons that attributes to feeling depressed and lonely, which can eventually cause suicidal ideation.”
Despite an increase in CAPS calls relating to suicide from 2015-2016, Suwinyattichaiporn said the counseling center is “under-utilized.”
“I think it’s because suicidal ideation is taboo. It’s an embarrassment to be feeling like you could commit suicide,” she said. “It’s difficult. It’s very hard to express.”
Suwinyattichaiporn noted with the rise of online use, there is a rise in the potential for online counseling, which can help reach people who may be uncomfortable talking to someone about their feelings face to face.
Suwinyattichaiporn and her colleagues are in the process of developing a software for an app called Ark Humanity. The app detects suicidal or questionable social media posts and sends the person who wrote the post resources to find help.
The goal is for universities nationwide to adopt and subscribe to the app so they can be alerted of these posts and reach out to their students, Suwinyattichaiporn said. She hopes CSUF will adopt the new technology.
The expected launch for the software is fall 2017.
Psychology professor Mindy Mechanic said social media influences can have a negative impact on troubled young people because they glorify suicide as a viable option.
“When suicide is seen by individuals as an acceptable means of dealing with emotional pain or stress or anxiety, whether it’s popularized in social media or when other teens do it and it’s publicized, it gives other young people the idea that this is an okay way to deal with your problems,” she said.
The transition from high school to college is also a “developmentally stressful period” because students may find the values they were raised with now conflict with who they want to become, Mechanic said.
“You’re first learning how to be independent, you’re figuring out, ‘Who am I apart from how my family and the world wants me to be? What are my values?’ Mechanic said. “It can be a difficult time.”
She said this can lead to feelings of depression and hopelessness, which are stressors for suicide.
“When (people) feel hopeless or helpless to change the situation, that’s a pretty significant risk factor for suicidality,” Mechanic said.
Direct signs of suicidal thoughts include people communicating that they wish they were dead or want to kill themselves, while indirect signs may be more subtle, like saying they are tired of life or cannot go on.
Mechanic said when a person’s depression symptoms are noticeable, having a friend available to talk to can greatly benefit the depressed person.
Students feeling depressed are not alone in their feelings and should not be afraid to reach out for help, Suwinyattichaiporn said.
“Choose an outlet that is suitable for you. If you really want to see someone and talk to them in person, then that’s the best way. If you really don’t want to be facing a person, look at these apps, talk to people. Essentially, talking to someone is key,” she said.