Whether it be changes in social media or the lack of awareness and education, there could be multiple reasons why suicide among college students has become more common over the years.
Suicide rates among people ages 15 to 24 reached the highest point in 2017, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Underlying Cause of Death database provided the data, which consisted of information regarding deaths of people ages 15 through 24 in the U.S. from 2000 to 2017.
The suicide rate among people ages 15 to 19 increased from 8 per 100,000 people in 2000 to 11.8 per 100,000 people in 2017, according to the JAMA study. The suicide rate among people ages 20 to 24 increased from 12.5 per 100,000 people in 2000 to 17 per 100,000 people in 2017.
Sharron Davis, executive director of the suicide prevention organization known as Contact Lubbock, said depending on the source where a person gets their information, about 45,000 people in the U.S. die by suicide each year.
“7,500 youth die by suicide each year,” she said. “Suicide is now considered the second leading cause of death for people 10 to 34. Again, we lose people much younger than that.”
Regardless, Davis said suicide is not specific to one’s age.
“Male suicide is increasing all across, it doesn’t matter what age,” she said. “Young women are dying more by suicide also because they’re using really lethal methods.”
In addition to the increasing suicide rates among young adults, one may also consider the factors that could lead to this increase.
Online interaction is one reason Davis said suicide has become more prominent, especially for college students.
“The general consensus is social media is huge in that,” she said regarding possibly causes of the increasing suicide rates. “Children, adults, young adults become very isolated many times.”
Whether it be because a person is being cyberbullied or not getting enough likes from social media followers, Davis said there are consistent factors that causes distress among users and makes social media a place for negative thoughts. She said the impact of these factors depend on the person.
To combat these negative thoughts that are spread online, Davis said one needs to talk about suicide, which can consist of speaking up for another person or sharing one’s thoughts of suicide, despite how unformattable the conversation may be. She said every school should have effective suicide prevention educational opportunities that not only provide information, but also give students the chance to ask for help.
“And yet, it’s proven that honest, open communication is the key to suicide prevention,” Davis said.
Despite communication about suicide possibly being beneficial, college students may not be open to talking about issues someone they know or they themselves are facing.
Jon Webb, associate professor in the Texas Tech Community, Family and Addiction Sciences department, said there is a misconception that talking about suicide will lead to suicide.
“Sometimes, people are worried if you bring it up like that, you’re going to make it more likely they are going to do something because you’re putting the thought in their head,” he said. “Research shows that’s not a real concern. It’s OK to talk directly about it.”
Regarding the age groups with increasing suicide rates, Webb said he thinks college students and anyone within those age groups are facing a variety distressing conditions that lead to negative thoughts.
“I think struggling with a lot of pressure and maybe uncertainty about the future,” he said regarding some possible factors in why suicide is becoming more prominent for the college-aged population. “I think our culture is changing a little bit in terms of social interactions. It seems that some of that stuff is behind maybe some of those increases.”
Having to endure psychological and emotional pain is a possible reason Webb said the increase in suicide rates among young adults is occurring.
“There’s another theory of suicide called psyche-ache,” he said. “It basically has to do with not having your psychological needs met.”
When these psychological and emotional needs are not met, people can feel psychological or emotional pain, Webb said. The need to end this pain could be a factor he said will prompt one to commit suicide.
For those who want to know how to help people they know who may be having suicidal thoughts, one may encounter some obstacles.
Nikki La Rosa, clinical psychology doctoral student from Parkland, Florida, said one issue in determining suicide risks and behaviors is the fact that there are many factors that can contribute to suicide.
“One person can have a list of factors, and they might be related, but someone might present with completely different factors,” she said. “It’s almost individualized. There’s obviously a lot of overlap.”
Depression, peer victimization and bullying are major risk factors La Rosa said could be common among multiple people and lead to someone exhibiting suicidal behaviors.
“If a student’s been peer victimized, is socially anxious or presents as depressed,” she said regarding some suicidal behaviors. “Loneliness has also been associated with suicide ideation and attempts.”
Because suicide can impact many people and present itself in a variety of ways, La Rosa said intervention is being utilized more to help those contemplating suicide.
Despite the methods used to combat suicide ideation, La Rosa said it is good that more studies are being done to understand the increasing suicide rates and how much suicide is impacting young adults and adolescents.
“It’s been great that more research has been devoted to finding out the risk factors and the correlates related to suicide thoughts, behaviors, ideation attempts.” she said. “It’s a public health epidemic because it’s not just affecting one subset of people.”