Speaking Out About Youth Suicide

alison_malmon_2_websiteAlison Malmon
Founder and executive director of Active Minds Inc.

Today we continue our five part series on youth suicide prevention. Guest perspectives come from National Network of Depression Centers and Active Minds Inc., as well as personal stories from both a peer and family member. In today’s post Alison Malmon writes about the role peers and others play in preventing youth suicide on college campuses.

Speaking Out About Youth Suicide

At first glance, the 1,100 backpacks spread out across the campus quad or in the student union look puzzling. Walking through them, you notice that most have stories attached. Some have pictures. Signs reading, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help” and “Stigma is shame, shame causes silence, silence hurts us all,” poke out among the packs. Students quietly mill around, picking up the bags and reading the stories.

At some point, it becomes clear: These aren’t just ordinary backpacks. They represent the number of college students who die by suicide each year.

This is what it’s like to experience Send Silence Packing, Active Minds’ traveling suicide prevention display currently touring campuses in the Midwest. The stunning visual depicts how many student lives are lost each year to suicide and gives important information to those on campus who most need it — students.

The statistics on college campus suicide are staggering, consider:

  • 1,100 students die by suicide each year
  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among students
  • Nearly one half of students say they felt so depressed that they found it difficult to function in the past school year
  • Roughly one in ten college students has considered suicide

It’s not enough to merely understand the statistics in order to prevent suicides on college campuses. We also need to understand the daily experiences of students who are struggling. Key in any campus suicide prevention effort is recognizing that college students turn to their friends for help before anyone else.

Research shows that two-thirds of all college students with suicidal ideation first report these feelings to a friend, roommate, or significant other. Because students spend the majority of their time in college surrounded by peers not just during weekdays, but also at night and on weekends, these peers are more likely to notice a change in their behavior or mood.

Students are more likely to talk to a friend before contacting the counseling center or reaching out to a parent or a professor. Fifty-two percent who confided in peers about their suicidal ideation reported the person was helpful or very helpful in their recovery. It’s pretty clear. Reaching out to students in distress isn’t enough. All students need the tools to safely and effectively help a peer that is struggling with suicidal ideation.

We need to educate the entire campus population.

This notion seems to be catching on. At more and more schools, we’re seeing mental health awareness included in freshman orientation. Resident Assistants are being trained in how to help students who are struggling. Our chapter at the University of Oregon is advocating to have mental health resource numbers printed on the back of every student I.D. There seems to be no limit to the creativity and innovation we find among our chapter members in finding ways to educate their peers about mental health and suicide.

Even so, we have much more work to do. Most of the students who approach a Send Silence Packing exhibit have no idea that suicide is so common on campuses. They aren’t sure what to say if a friend confides that they’re having suicidal thoughts. That’s OK. This is a scary subject to talk about. But it’s up to universities and colleges to start the conversation.

The answer to suicide prevention on our college campuses is simple: Involve the talented and intelligent students sitting in classrooms, eating in dining halls and sleeping in dorms. Talk to them. Teach them. Engage them. They are our best hope to truly send silence packing.

Your Turn

  • What would you want people to say to you if you were experiencing feelings of hopelessness?
  • How can campus administrators and college counseling centers create better awareness around the public health issue of student suicide?

Take the poll

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Facebook Comments

11 comments
StacyK
StacyK

Alison, thank you for sharing your thoughts about my daughter Kim's comment. That meant a lot to her. After reading your article here on the Care For Your Mind blog I read more about your story on your Active Minds webpage. I can't possibly express enough how much I admire you and the work you are doing to prevent suicide. I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your brother Brian. I can't imagine how heartbreaking it was and still is. You are an incredible role model for those going through a similar experience. Your "Send Silence Packing" campaign is so needed around our college campuses. I used to work on a college campus, and I would have liked to have seen such a campaign for suicide awareness. I'm hoping that the campaign has made its way through Southern Ilinois, and if not that it will be here soon. I see such a need for it. From the heart, thank you for the work you do. I see great hope for the day that the 1,100 student suicides that occur annually will be reduced if not eliminated.

StephenBonin
StephenBonin

1. "Let's walk in the sunshine--for some exercise and enjoyment of each other's company. We don't have to talk--just appreciate nature, if you'd like. A new book out makes sense: depression rate is extremely high because we're not getting enough natural light. Let's bathe in the light!"

"You WILL get better. Let's put your wellness factors in a 12-slice pie on paper. Let's talk about your: Sleep, Nutrition, Exposure to Natural Light; Exercise; Attention to Edifying Reading/ Listening/ Viewing; Friends' Attitudes; Relationships; and more."

"You know, the best and brightest minds have suicidal ideation. Let's sit down together with a snack and study _________________."

"You are very gifted in __________________, and you have positively touched many lives; your inability to feel good about yourself will pass, and I promise to connect you to the effective resources." 

2. I feel excited to learn about Active Minds, Inc., and its traveling backpack suicide awareness campaign. I am going to talk with the right administrators about an Active Minds, Inc. chapter on this college campus. Regarding other ideas, I like "Wellness Week" one week each month, in which students are informed of the accessible, feasible, common sense ways to aim for balance.

kimgallen
kimgallen

There is no question that this is a "scary subject". I know in graduate school I felt a lot of emotion when I studied suicide in my counseling classes. That being said, I did not understand suicide in any remote respect. Now, as I have aged and my bipolar disorder travels with me as an invisible "backpack", I certainly do understand the exhaustion and/or despair that can erode one's confidence and ability to connect. I think your excercise utilizing the backpacks is a very good one. I also feel that all people need to know how to ask the question to others in terms of "are you feeling suicidal?". Even now, I am not certain that I know how to do that, despite all of my experience and education.  

AlisonMalmon
AlisonMalmon

Stacy and Kim -- that's a great point. Because students have so many different struggles -- depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, etc. -- and come from such different backgrounds, we need to make sure that support systems acknowledge all these differences. No two students will need the exact same support. Thanks so much for reading and sharing!

StacyK
StacyK

I asked my daughter, who lives with bipolar disorder, anxiety and has attempted suicide more than once, what she thought about question number 1. She has given me permission to reply on her behalf. This is what she has to say, "First, I would like to acknowledge that everybody reacts to situations differently. I personally tend to build up a wall when someone offers me help. In the past I've had friends who have tried to push me to feel a certain way. No one can force anyone to feel happy, sad etc. Therefore, support comes in different forms. For me, I would rather have someone next to me just listening to my problems who has open ears and an open heart. But like I said everyone is different." KimK.

StephenBonin
StephenBonin

@StacyK I agree with StacyK's commendation of Alison, and repeat my goal to talk with our local college's officials about this organization.

StephenBonin
StephenBonin

@kimgallen Kimgallen, I felt a shudder in my chest by virtue of your transparency. The subject of asking someone, "Are you feeling suicidal" or being on the receiving end if/ when one mentions ideation or a plan to a peer has to be dealt with. So, receive my encouragement to get past the fear, and think about some strategies. This fantastic advocacy training and the one we'll do in Washington, D.C,., open our horizons and build our hope. Isn't it great to keep learning more and more, each week?  YES! Thank you for admitting your uncertainty, and for reading this response. You WILL evolve into a competent person distressed others. Stephen.

StephenBonin
StephenBonin

@AlisonMalmon AlisonMalmon, Thank you for the "thumbs up"! I have enjoyed learning through reading and writing. On top of that, my colleagues exercise kindness so well. We all know the principle of kindness--the trusting relationship established on kindness will yield beneficent results. As we look forward to advocating, we rehearse this foundation. We want to be kind and confident advocates.

Having a sense of HUMor will bind us HUMans well--smiling, chuckling, laughing when appropriate. I think of afish's post last week, revealing her age as "72 years young!"  Way to go, afish, whom I assumed was much younger numerically because of the moniker "afish." What a blessing laughter is!

Kudos on your point about different struggles. Truly a worthy topic.

To close on my focus on laughter, I bring to the table once again the absolute gem of "Stand Up For Mental Health," in which an award-winning author and comic is traveling extensively turning people who suffer with mental anguish into people who are able to laugh at themselves and others in a safe way.

Check out videos on YouTube or on the organization's website, and HAVE A JOYOUS WEEKEND, EVERYBODY!

StephenBonin
StephenBonin

@StacyK StacyK, Thank you for asking your daughter, that we could have this "first-person testimony," if you will. The mention of the word "support" immediately brings to mind "Support Group," and fuels my focus of communicating with peers in our support group about branching off. For example, three this week have told me of their "Dual Diagnosis," and how they want to air their feelings in a separate setting. Regarding your daughter's admission of building a wall, just thinking about my time in this black bottom, living away from all family, and easily cordoning off myself in a small apartment complex because I had NOT made friends. . .I wrote last week about a curriculum that parents--for starters--would go through to help them help others.

The new _BP_ magazine is out, the last page an essay about a mother who had tumultuous times with two daughters. I adamantly believe we need training--that people spend regular time studying the proven effective methods of keeping communication lines healthy, if they are not naturally gifted in reaching out to youth like my friend Jerry White, whom I wrote about last week. Thank you, StacyK!

AlisonMalmon
AlisonMalmon

@StephenBonin @kimgallen  Thank you both for such insightful and kind responses -- you seldom find that in comments sections! I so appreciate you reading and sharing your thoughts. - Alison

StacyK
StacyK

Thank you Stephen! I share with Kim the different activities that I do to bring awareness to this important topic so I had shared Alison's article with her. I invited her to share here on the blog but almost felt like I was over stepping my bounds with her. She was glad to hear that people actually care, and want to help. She too wants to help others and prevent suicides. Even though suicide prevention is desperately needed I feel as though we might be prying into the most private area of a persons life which I believe is the mind. In addition, I've been thinking about how difficult it is for many of us who have a loved one who either died by suicide or attempted suicide to begin to even understand the "Why?" And yet we are asking people who live with hopelessness, suicidal ideations and/or maybe who have made attempts to comprehend something that maybe they can't even grasp, especially when in the depths of mental illness. I'm hopeful that we will be able to unravel the mystery surrounding suicide if we keep talking and inviting others to share. I have to say that I'm proud of my daughter for allowing us a glimpse into her thought processes. Thanks again Stephen!

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