By Magnus Dalier
College provides an opportunity for learning, independence, and growth, but like any community, colleges experience tragedies. Horrific events like the suicide of a classmate can have long-lasting traumatic impacts on students. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US and the second leading cause of death among college students with 43.1% of students surveyed reporting some degree of suicidal behavior in their lifetime. This represents a 10% increase from 2014 (Hirsch, Rabon, Reynolds, Barton & Chang, 2019). Given the rising incidence, it is important to know what risk factors to look for.
Studies have shown that binge drinking and drinking to cope may be associated with suicidal ideation. Students may choose to drink socially; however; certain behaviors may indicate which students are at risk for suicide or self-harm. Rash reactions to negative events (described as negative urgency) and avoidant coping behavior (such as giving up) positively correlate with problematic drinking behaviors (Gonzalez, 2019).
Emotional tendencies, regardless of behavior, show similar correlates to suicidality. Another study proposes that stress and depression are each connected to suicidal ideation. The specific relationship between stress and suicidal ideation, however, is exacerbated by mental health stigma (Hirsch et al., 2019). Therefore, it is crucial that students know the prevalence of mental health issues, are aware of their campus resources, and develop strong support systems that value mental health.
Identifying the risk factors and offering support can help prevent the suicide of an at-risk peer. Students should consider what they can do to help themselves and to serve as active bystanders on their campuses. Students who experience social problem-solving difficulties, negative impulsivity, anxiety, or depression may be at increased risk for suicide. Improving social problem-solving skills may mitigate avoidant coping behavior and negative urgency, which may alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression (Hirsch et al., 2019).
The links between risk factors and suicide are not always clear. However, intervention strategies and support systems are crucial to suicide prevention. Exploring multiple social groups and activities could help promote healthy problem-solving skills and supportive relationships. It would also help to remain aware of the local and national resources available to individuals in need.
For more information on early signs and intervention, please refer to
If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention
Gonzalez, V.M. (2019). Factors linking suicidal ideation to drinking to cope and alcohol
problems in emerging adult college drinkers. Experimental and Clinical
Psychopharmacology, 27, 166-177.
Hirsch, J.K., Rabon, J.K., Reynolds, E.E., Barton, A.L., & Chang E.C. (2019). Perceived stress
and suicidal behaviors in college students: Conditional indirect effects of depressive
symptoms and mental health stigma. Stigma and Health, 4, 98-106.