How colleges are fighting the second-leading cause of student death

Connecting staff, faculty, and students to resources

Campus mental health statistics paint an alarming picture—and by some measures, they are getting worse, Kelly Wallace reports for CNN.

Nearly 31% of students—almost one in three—who visited counseling in AY 2013-2014 reported that they seriously considered suicide, according to the latest report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University.

Five years ago, that number was only 25%.

The number of students who reported intentionally harming themselves has risen in the last five years, too, from 21% to 24%.

Reported suicide attempts stayed relatively flat, increasing only from 8% to 9% over the five-year period. But as Wallace points out, it still "means nearly one out of 10 students who went to counseling on campus said they tried to kill themselves at some point."

Suicide remains the second-leading cause of death among college students, according to Active Minds, a nonprofit group that raises awareness about student mental health issues.

Connecting students to help

According to Wallace, many schools are focusing on two core areas: preventing suicides and reducing stigma around seeking mental health services.

Responding to students of concern: Best practices for behavioral intervention teams

At The Ohio State University, freshmen learn to identify and engage friends showing warning signs of depression and suicide. Then, they learn how to help those friends get the care and treatment they need.

Before implementing the training, only 12.6% of Ohio State students reported that they had received education in preventing suicide. After implementing the program, that number jumped to 41.8%.

Boston University has built a "culture of caring," says Dori Hutchinson, director of services at the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. The school has trained faculty and staff to spot signs of anxiety, depression, and suicide. Faculty and staff have also learned how to approach students, have that conversation, and guide them to treatment.

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst puts specific resources about warning signs and crisis resources within easy reach of faculty in a "maroon folder."

To help remove the stigma around counseling, leaders at Cornell University shared stories of their own struggles in a video. Former president David Skorton appears in the video, explaining that he, too, went to a counselor when he was in college. Cornell shows the video to all incoming students and graduate students at orientation.

But some in the field are wary that going too far with this approach could create a culture of overly sensitive students who cannot overcome minor setbacks, writes Wallace. And anxiety is now the top concern among students seeking mental health services, according to a report by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health.

So some colleges are shifting toward a resilience training approach. "How do you reframe how people think about their stress?" is how Gregory Eells, director of counseling and psychological services at Cornell, sums up the approach. "I like to use the phrase, 'How do you learn to fail better?' Because when we fail, that's how we learn, that's how we improve" (Wallace, CNN, 9/9; Active Minds release, accessed 9/11).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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