Philadelphia Inquirer: The Pain of Campus Suicide

Philadelphia Inquirer: The Pain of Campus Suicide

Question: If you have (or are) a college student, what is your college doing to address this issue? This sobering article, with alarming statistics and tragic examples, appeared originally in the Philadelphia Inqurier, and has been reprinted in the Chicago Tribune and other venues.  Excerpts follow; read more at:

Addressing suicide among seemingly successful college students

Two recent suicides at Penn and a smattering of others at college campuses over the last year – including a student who jumped off a parking garage at Pennsylvania State University in December – has brought renewed attention from administrators and talk on how to ramp up prevention and awareness. … when popular, high-achieving students, who seemingly have everything to live for, take their lives, it sends nothing short of a shock wave through their campuses and leaves families and friends grappling – even years later – for answers.

“You won’t really know what triggered this in anybody,” said Donna Ambrogi, whose son Kyle, a Penn football player, killed himself in 2005. “That’s the hardest part for families.”


When a student commits suicide, it’s often the result of multiple factors, said Victor Schwartz, a psychiatrist and medical director for the Jed Foundation, a New York-based suicide-prevention group aimed at college students. “It’s more often personal- and family-relationship disruption,” he said. “In many cases, alcohol or other substances are involved.”

College age, he said, is also the time when many mental illnesses, including depression and schizophrenia, surface. Up to 90 percent of suicide victims have a diagnosable psychiatric condition, he said. In addition, students are learning independence, testing boundaries, and discovering sexual identity.

“For most people who die by suicide, there is some underlying vulnerability, then some triggering, stressful situation,” said Mary E. Kelly, lead psychologist and suicide-prevention specialist at Rutgers University, which was rocked by the 2010 suicide of freshman Tyler Clementi.


The statistics

Colleges aren’t required to report suicides, so the problem is hard to track.  Penn officials said they don’t know how many students died of suicide over the last five years.  “The university doesn’t keep records like that,” said spokesman Ron Ozio.

About 7 percent of students nationally report having experienced suicidal thoughts in the last 12 months, statistics show. About 1 percent attempt suicide.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college students.

National statistics show that 6.5 college students per 100,000 commit suicide annually, a rate that has declined slightly since 1990. The rate for college students is only about half that of noncollege students that age.

 Warning Signs for Suicide

 Talking about wanting to die.

Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.

Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.

Talking about being a burden to others.

Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.

Acting anxious or agitated.

Sleeping too little or too much.

Withdrawing or isolating.

Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.

Displaying extreme mood swings.

What to do if someone exhibits warning signs

Do not leave the person alone.

Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs, or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

SOURCE: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

215-854-4693 @ssnyderinq






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