College and Teen Suicide Statistics

Troubled teenage girl seated by wall.
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According to the American College Health Association (ACHA) the suicide rate among young adults, ages 15-24, has tripled since the 1950s and suicide is currently the second most common cause of death among college students. These young people are often away from home and friends for the first time. They're living with strangers, far from their support systems, and working under intense pressure - with disrupted sleeping, eating and exercise patterns. You could hardly design a more stressful atmosphere, particularly when depression or other mental health issues enter the picture. Here's a snapshot of the grim statistics on college suicides and teen suicide attempts, as well as what some colleges are doing to help.

The Shocking Numbers

  • Suicides among girls ages 15 to 19 doubled from 2007 to 2015, when it reached its highest point in 40 years.
  • The suicide rate for boys ages 15 to 19 grew by 30 percent from 2007 to 2015.
  • Twice as many young men, ages 20-24, commit suicide, compared with young women. In teens, ages 17-19, the ratio is even more skewed, with suicide claiming nearly five times the number of young men.
  • Additional risk factors include traumatic or stressful life events; a prior suicide attempt; a sense of isolation and lack of support; impulsivity issues; substance abuse issues; poor coping skills; and access to a suicide method.
  • Young men are four times more likely to die from suicide than young women. However, in the same age range, females are more likely than males to attempt suicide.

What to Watch for and Prevention

  • Warning signs include academic problems, depression, mood swings, withdrawal, feelings of hopelessness, disregard for personal appearance, increased substance use, increased risk-taking and/or an obsession with death.
  • Factors that can help, according to mental health counselors at Arizona State University, include: close personal relationships with friends, family, faculty or staff; resiliency skills; healthy habits, including adequate sleep, diet, and physical exercise; and readily accessible health care and counseling services.
  • Every college has expanded its mental health counseling services, and suicide and depression awareness programs in recent years. Those efforts include training dormitory resident assistants - Cornell has even trained its dorm custodians - to be on the lookout for troubled students. And on many campuses, they've dramatically increased their stress-reduction programs to help students manage and reduce stress factors before they become unbearable.

How Parents and Family Can Help Their Troubled Kids

  • Stay involved with your high school students as much as possible. Attend their sporting events, performances, and other activities. Talk to teachers and faculty if you sense that their schoolwork is suffering, their grades are dropping or they quit clubs or organizations on campus.
  • Stay in touch with your college kid. Freshmen especially need to know that the family support they relied on through childhood is still there, even long distance. Use whatever means they are most comfortable with to talk often - text, phone, Facebook chat or Facetime. 
  • If you sense a problem is bothering your teen or college student, don't pry or panic. Ask open-ended questions, listen carefully to their answers, their tone of voice and their willingness to share. Avoid criticism, harsh words or impatience. 
  • Encourage your teen or young adult to take time to take care of themselves, whether that means reading a good book, watching a movie or taking a daily nap. Send healthy care packages to your college student and make sure your high schoolers have nutritious meals and snacks available. 
  • Share some of the struggles you had when you were younger. Saying "I've been there" can be the difference between your teen or young adult feeling heard and seen and feeling invisible. They may act like they don't care about what you say or show no interest, but they will most likely hear it anyway.
  • Monitor their social media activity if it's appropriate for you to do so. This pertains to younger teens who are less likely to realize the emotional impact that social media can have on them, including cyberbullying, feelings of inadequacy and finding out that they have been excluded from social activities. Studies have shown a direct correlation between the rise in social media use and the rise in teen depression.
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