Programs aim for student support, suicide prevention

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New college students sometimes feel lonely, confused, anxious, inadequate and stressed and those factors may have led to a dramatic increase in the student suicide rate.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students, according to an Emory University study. 
 
Linda Wolszon, director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said that college years bring pressure because they include life transitions like moving away from home and away from familiar social support. 
 
The suicide rate among young adults aged 15 to 24 has tripled since the 1950s, according to the American College Health Association.

Between the years of 2010 and 2013, six TCU students committed suicide. Since then, the university has increased its suicide prevention programs and received a $250,000 grant to create programs such as the RU OK campaign to decrease the numbers. The campaign encourages students to seek support for mental health issues.

TCU suicide prevention outreach coordinator Cortney Gumbleton said there is a generation gap with suicide because Millennials believe they live under a lot of stress.  
 
“Millennials don’t have the same level of coping skills that all of those other generations have,” Gumbleton said.  
 
Wolszon said research shows that the biggest reason for suicidal thought is the desire to escape the emotional pain of romantic relationship problems, academic struggles, family problems and social isolation. 
  
“College students are living with unfamiliar individuals, far from their support systems, and working under intense pressure with deprived sleeping habits, eating and exercise patterns,” Wolszon said. 
  
Warning signs of suicide can include academic problems, depression, mood swings, withdrawal, feelings of hopelessness, disregard for personal appearance, increased substance use, increased risk-taking and an obsession with death, she said.

Wolszon said alcohol and drug abuse can increase the potential for suicidal thoughts.

The TCU chapter of Active Minds, a campus mental health advocacy group, staged an event called “Send Silence Packing,” an exhibit that displayed 1,100 donated backpacks of college students who committed suicide. 
 
“It’s really hard, especially on a conservative campus, to have people talk about such a difficult topic, and I hope the students can get to place to talk about it when they are ready,” said Kaitlyn Drtil, co-president of TCU Active Minds and a sophomore nursing major.

Another organization founded to advocate for mental health issues is To Write Love on Her Arms, a group that states its goal as removing stigma from such issues as suicide, eating disorders and depression.

Alec Mothershead, president of To Write Love on Her Arms, said that TCU has a lot more support compared to other universities. 
 
“Every time I think we are doing the absolute best thing,” Mothershead said. “Someone always comes up with something new.”

Cornell University of Ithaca, N.Y., has trained its dorm custodians to be on the lookout for troubled students. TCU is engaged in a similar practice — 
 
Milton Daniel Hall Director Varselles Cummings said that each staff member in the Office of Residence Life has gone through suicide prevention training. 
 
“It’s an approach to confronting someone about their possible thoughts of suicide,” Cummings said. “It is not intended to be a form of counseling or treatment, instead a means to offer hope through positive action.” 
 
Because of the number of suicides, some universities including TCU are striving to get in front of the problem to create a healthy and comfortable environment for the students to discuss concerns.  
 
“I personally don’t think you can talk about suicide enough as long as you talk about it in a safe and healthy environment,” Mothershead said.

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