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Beyond the Blues: What Faculty, Administrators and Staff Should Know About Depression and Suicide Prevention

What You Should Know

In general, mental illness is on the rise on American college campuses. For example, the American College Health Association reported that based upon a national college health assessment, 64% of college students reported feeling emotionally exhausted; 38% reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function and 10% reported that they had been diagnosed with depression. Similarly, on average, 30% of colleges and universities report that a suicide has taken place within a given academic year; 10% of college students report that they have seriously contemplated suicide and 1.5% of college students report having made a suicide attempt. Recently, USA Today reported that among college freshmen 40% of deaths were caused by suicide. In fact, suicide has been found to be the second leading cause of all deaths among 15 to 24 year olds in the U.S.

Because of the prevalence of depression and suicidality on the college campus, the Counseling Center is reaching out to all of their colleagues in order to make you aware of these problems and to ask for your assistance in identifying and referring students who may be clinically depressed and/or at risk for suicide.

About Depression

Clinical depression is more than "having the blues" or "having a bad day." It is a serious condition that can impact all aspects of an individual's life including eating, sleeping, working, studying, relationships and self-esteem. People who are clinically depressed cannot simply "snap out of it." Usually, people experiencing clinical depression require professional treatment without which their symptoms can worsen and continue indefinitely. Fortunately, upwards of 80 to 90% of individuals who enter treatment feel better within a few weeks.

Depression affects 10% of the overall population in the United States in any given year, and females are twice as likely to experience depression as are males. However, males are three times more likely to actually commit suicide.

What Causes Depression for College Students?

Many factors contribute to depression including biological predisposition, hormonal imbalances, coping skills, and belief systems. Among college students, common causes of depression are loss and challenges to self-esteem. Examples include:

  • the breakup of a romance;
  • divorce or family separation;
  • death of a loved one;
  • financial stress;
  • decline in academic performance;
  • being overwhelmed by multiple demands and
  • priorities; and/or
  • lack of social and emotional support from parents, peers or other significant persons.

Identifying Students at Risk for Depression and Suicide

Students often turn to professors, deans and other administrators when they are in distress. Sometimes students will verbalize directly that they are sad, depressed or otherwise going through a difficult time. Alternatively, students sometimes disclose via e-mails, papers, journals or other writing assignments that they are in distress. Sudden declines in academic performance, class attendance, participation and physical appearance may also be signs of clinical depression. Listed below are some actions you can take in order to assist students who may be depressed and/or suicidal.

  • Be supportive of the student and willing to listen.
  • If you believe that a student is depressed, make a referral to the Counseling Center.
  • If you believe that a student may be suicidal, bring the student to the Counseling Center or notify a member of the Counseling Center senior staff immediately about your concerns.
  • Acquaint yourself with the symptoms of depression and suicide.

Common Symptoms of Depression

  • Sad mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Little interest or pleasure in usual activities
  • Not following usual routine
    (E.g., attending class, going to work, or meeting other responsibilities)
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss
  • Low energy, constant fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Thoughts of death and suicide
  • Feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem
  • Not being able to get over a break-up of a relationship
  • Decline in physical appearance
  • Overall decline in functioning
  • Social isolation

Risk Factors For Suicide

  • Direct expression of wanting to commit suicide
  • "Hints" about suicide intent
  • Hopelessness
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Someone significant has committed suicide
  • Putting affairs in order
  • Giving things away
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Rejection of help
  • Alcohol/drug abuse
  • Impulsive behavior

What to do if You Are Unsure

If you suspect that a student may be depressed and/or suicidal, but you are uncertain as to how to intervene, please do not hesitate to contact the Counseling Center for consultation regarding how to handle this situation.

To discuss a student of concern with a member of the Counseling Center staff, please call:

Counseling Center (914) 633-2038