Three Students Die in Cornell University Gorges

Some students point to Cornell's reputation as an academic pressure cooker and its gloomy, unending precipitation.

Guilbert's older brother Stephen, 21, serves as a resident advisor in the dorms and said "tensions and concerns are high." His role has been to help keep an eye on students and their spirits.

"Cornell is a hard school," he said. "This time of year, almost every class tries to get in their last large assignment before spring break and it weighs on students. The atmosphere here is very tense this time of year and although the school offers excellent counseling services, some students who find the pressure too great to handle and lack support from back home find a solution in the bottom of the gorge."

Marchell agrees Cornell is an academically rigorous place, but said the university's stigma as a suicide center is just not accurate.

Even though the gorges have become a "destination" for out-of-town jumpers, "there is no affiliation with Cornell and it just reinforces the misperception," he said.

John Draper, a psychologist and project director for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, said Cornell has no more suicides than any other university.

"When you commit suicide in public places, so many people bear witness to it and it becomes an explanation point that people live to remember," Draper said.

"It may give the impression that it happens more often, but suicide bridges happen more often at Cornell than at other schools," he said.

Therefore, the university must focus on the "means" and reduce access to bridges and suicide points.

"There is clear evidence that barriers and bars can reduce suicides," he said.

"People say that if you put bars, they will want to go kill themselves somewhere else, but that's a myth," he said.

Such efforts have been successful at bridges like the Viaduct in Toronto, Duke Ellington in Washington, D.C., Memorial Bridge in Augusta, Maine, and the suspension bridge in Bristol, England.

More Think Suicide Than Do It

Roughly 26,000 college students in the United States have thought about suicide at least once during their lifetime, according to a 2006 Web-based survey conducted by the National Research Consortium of Counseling Centers in Higher Education.

An estimated 15 percent had seriously considered an attempt and more than 5 percent had actually tried to commit suicide, the study found. The study suggested that at any college with 18,000 students, nearly 1,100 would think about an attempt.

But the number of students who actually carry out suicide is much lower.

One Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Organization survey last year noted that more than 8 million Americans thought about suicide, but only about 900,000 actually tried.

"Even people who to all eyes and ears seem hell-bent on suicide have an amazing degree of ambivalence to their core the moment they try to kill themselves," Draper said. "You see a number of people make highly lethal attempts, barely conscious, and when they are conscious, they say, 'Please save me.'"

Those who talk about suicide need "time, support and help when they are in this transient state," he said.

College students are particularly vulnerable, and Cornell is now taking a comprehensive look at its suicide prevention programs.

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