More Than 50% of College Students Felt Suicidal

A new study suggests the problem of suicide in university students is growing.

ByABC News
November 5, 2008, 8:20 AM

Aug. 18, 2008— -- BOSTON -- A comprehensive study of suicidal thinking among college students found more than half of the 26,000 surveyed had suicidal thoughts at some point during their lifetime.The web-based survey conducted in spring 2006 used separate samples of undergraduate and graduate students from 70 colleges and universities across the country.

Of the 15,010 undergraduates, average age 22: 55 percent had ever thought of suicide; 18 percent seriously considered it; and 8 percent made an attempt. Among 11,441 graduate students, average age 30: Exactly half had such thoughts; 15 percent seriously considered it and 6 percent made an attempt.

"Suicidal crises are a common occurrence on college campuses," says Chris Brownson, director of the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center in Austin and one of the study's researchers.

The findings, which were presented Sunday at a session of the American Psychological Association's annual meeting, were compiled from online surveys conducted by the National Research Consortium of Counseling Centers in Higher Education based at the UT-Austin.

"A lot of previous research has indicated the severity of mental health issues on college campuses has been increasing -- not decreasing -- and when you look at the lifetime prevalence rates, those are alarming statistics," Brownson says.

Within the 12 months before answering the survey, 6 percent of undergraduates and 4 percent of graduate students reported seriously considering suicide. However, among those students who thought about it within the past year, an episode of suicidal thinking was typically brief. For both groups, more than half of these episodes lasted a day or less, with about one-third reporting such thoughts lasted an hour or less. Suicidal thinking is frequently recurring, though. The study also found that among those who thought about killing themselves within the past year, just under half of both groups told no one.

The reasons for suicidal thinking varied, with wanting relief from emotional or physical pain as the major reason. Others were romantic relationship troubles; a desire to end their life; and school-related problems. The preferred method for suicide was overdosing on drugs, with half of those who had tried to kill themselves reporting using drugs.