Franklin James Cook

College Mental Illness, Suicide Merit Improved Services

In Prevention on November 18, 2008 at 7:58 am

ORIGINAL FEATURE — The San Antonio News-Express explores what it’s like on college campuses for students with mental illness. The newspaper tells the stories of three students who found help meeting the challenges of college life.

[Their stories are] hardly an anomaly. It is estimated that between 10 percent and 20 percent of college students struggle with serious and persistent mental illness — bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenia … The reality is that young adults with mental disorders often struggle in the college milieu, given the unique and stressful atmosphere of campus life … This is especially true for students whose disorders first manifest while they’re at college … the age of onset of many mental health illnesses is between 18 and 24.

Suicide is a leading cause of death among college students, and one of the students featured in the News-Express story had a history of suicide attempts before she came to college, and was hospitalized once for a non-fatal attempt in her junior year.

[Her] story has a happy ending. Her moods again became stable through medication and therapy — she is a frequent client at [the] counseling center — and she has stopped drinking for good. In December she will graduate with honors. [The student] … will earn a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and marketing and plans to be a spokeswoman for a bipolar awareness campaign.

The conclusions of a recent panel held at Columbia Law School on campus suicide are reported in a story in the Columbia Spectator. Panel member Dr. Morton Silverman, longtime editor of the suicidology field’s academic journal Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, “estimated that there are about 1,300 suicides on college campuses annually, which translates into three suicides a day.”

For prevention, Silverman suggested increasing resources and improving the quality of counseling centers, including better supervision of at-risk individuals, media training, sustainable programming, and cross-institutional mental health task forces.

  1. Interesting article, to include the detailed interview of Mr Silverman and comments in the Columbia Spectator, April 7, 2008 newspaper. However, much of this information/data has already been know for years. Additionally, the article seemed to show more of a veiled concern for inward/external “violent” acts from mental illness, rather than the disease itself and compassionate treatment of the affected student.
    I do detest a “research” article that implies/assumes that those who die of mental illness/suicide have committed a violent act. I know my own son was a very peace-loving, considerate young man who more often put the concern for others ahead of himself. Michael was a son whose goals varied from serving others as a priest, a doctor, and PeaceCorps volunteer…..a common theme of serving and not hurting others.
    Its amazing how much attention results from the truly horrific suicide/murders at Virginia Tech and other campuses. In comparison, thousands of “quiet” suicides each year resulting in one individual’s death rarely garners any constructive response from our media and society. Is our concern represented by the subject article/research due more to our fright of those with mental illness, or a truly compassionate concern for the well-being of our people inflicted with the disease of mental illness.
    Frankly, IMHO, the progress in the field of mental health/suicide has been truly abysmal. We spend millions every year toward research grants, ineffective/poorly run Govt funded MH programs/clinics and yet the overall results continue to be disappointing.
    I’m sure many will disagree w/ my comments, but I’ve seen first-hand the poor results of an ineffective MH research/clinical system over a period of 35 years for my own sister among others. As of December 17, 2007, we’ve now lost my youngest son to early episodes of mental illness/suicide on the campus of [the university where he was attending school]. This occurred in spite of very close parental involvement with the [university’s] counseling program … [EDITOR’S NOTE: A portion of the comment directly pointing to actions by specific individuals has been removed.] … On this campus, probably like most, I found counseling, medical center, academic and administrative departments/systems so poorly integrated that their chance of positively impacting students potentially “at risk” are remote at best. …
    Don’t get me wrong…I know there are many very special, dedicated MH professionals and researchers who are making great strides; especially given the ineffective leadership and resourcing that they must contend with. God bless these hard working people. Bottom-line: Poorly administered/resourced programs, lots of studies/analysis & “research”, but with very little impact upon their customer/client base.
    In conclusion, I find myself left with just a few questions. How many people with this disease, a disease they didn’t choose, must we lose before we overall our abysmal MH/medical system and make the necessary changes in leadership? How long until each one of us within our society helps to erase the MH related stigmas? When will we put aside our selfish fears and extend a helping hand? When will we truly respect/help those with MH needs just like those with cancer and heart issues? When will we recognize the often lengthy heroic struggles of our people battling mental illness?
    Steve Absalonson–Proud parents of a son now gone

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