Students and faculty confront suicide

During Suicide Prevention Month, UW-Madison students and faculty continue to foster dialogue about suicide on campus. 

Image By: Maximilian Homstad

Students and faculty confront suicide

September marks Suicide Prevention Month, a time when one of the most complicated issues facing society is brought more clearly into the public perspective.


Though suicide is often a taboo subject due to its heavy emotional charge, it is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Data shows someone dies by suicide every 12.8 minutes.


For college students and people aged 15 to 24, however, suicide is the second leading cause of death.


At UW-Madison, 9 percent of students reported having suicidal thoughts, and 1 percent of students reported a suicide attempt in the last year, according to the 2016 Healthy Minds Study. These percentages may be higher, since only 17 percent of the student body responded to the survey.


Every person experiences life differently, so the various reasons for suicide cannot be enumerated. Nevertheless, common causes do exist, including depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Depression, an illness that is often undiagnosed or untreated, affects 25 million Americans, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.


“Suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair,” said UW-Madison Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Promotion Coordinator Valerie Donovan.


She explained suicide proliferates because people are hesitant to reach out for help, so one of the best prevention strategies is for everyone on campus to look out for each other and have open conversations about mental health.


In Wisconsin, suicide rates have increased by 25.8 percent from 1999 to 2016, a trend that is reflected nationwide. There are no definite reasons, only theories, for the ascending rates.


For example, studies hypothesize the prevalence of social media has increased anxiety, which can sometimes lead to suicidal thinking. This is especially relevant to young people in the U.S., of whom 90 percent frequently use social media.


The increase in past years could also be due to financial stress, perhaps stemming from the recession of 2008.


For UW-Madison students, seeking help for or even talking about suicide can be extremely difficult.


“It takes a lot of courage to reach out,” said Donovan. “UHS wants students to feel supported when they do.”


UHS offers on-call crisis counselors, who can be reached at any time at the UHS Crisis Line. Family and friends who are concerned about a loved one or acquaintance are welcome to call on behalf of someone.


Family or friends of someone who appears to be thinking of suicide are often unclear about how to approach them to start a conversation, according to Donovan. Asking someone directly if they’re considering suicide does not increase the risk.


She said showing direct concern in a caring way can decrease the likelihood that the person will go through with a suicide. If a person says they are considering suicide, you should first take the person seriously, stay with them and then call UHS and escort them to mental health services or the emergency room if necessary.


UHS and other students organizations will host events throughout September. Help is available not only during Suicide Prevention Month, but year-round.


“Ultimately, it is important to remember that suicide is preventable and that we all play a role in creating and sustaining a campus climate supportive of mental health,” Donovan said.

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