The latest suicide case at Grand Valley State University adds to the ever-expanding pattern of suicidal behavior among college students. The epidemic has been spreading throughout the nation’s campuses, including New York University and Stanford, claiming many young lives during the last few years.
Patrick Ripper, a 20-year-old student from Michigan’s Grand Valley State University, is the most recently publicized suicide by a college student. Ripper was found in a ravine on Oct. 26, having plunged to his death from a bridge in the middle of campus.
There are 1,100 suicides on college campuses every year, making suicide the second leading cause of death among students, rivaled only by accidents. It is not surprising, however, considering the results of a 2004 reference group report by the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA).
According to the report, 14.9 percent of students claimed that they were diagnosed with depression.
The most recent and dramatic series of suicides took place in New York University, a private college known for its high academic standards, and equally high pressure. During the 2003-2004 academic year, six NYU students committed suicide, three of them jumping off the balcony of the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library in Manhattan.
Two of the tragic deaths took place only a month apart.
In addition, there have been three cases of suicide at Stanford University between May and August, a statistic that seriously brings into question the image of Stanford students as the happiest in the nation, an image which the university has carefully constructed over the years.
According to a report by the National Mental Health Association, 30 percent of college freshmen feel genuinely trapped in the middle of that difficult transition period from childhood into the real world, which can be overwhelming when coupled with a massive load of school work and first attempts at having a social life.
“There is definitely a lot of pressure, and I think students put a lot of pressure on themselves,” senior counselor Ruth De Rosa said. “There could be a lot of pressure from the family, there is financial pressure, there’s social pressures, there’s that whole need of trying to fit in , being one of the group. Huge, huge pressure.”
“If they never had really good coping mechanisms, being thrown into a college setting doesn’t make it better,” she said.
Furthermore, a recent ACHA study has shown that 15 percent of American college students were diagnosed with clinical depression. That is a 10 percent increase from just four years ago. In addition, nearly 50 percent of college students admitted that at some point their depression has gotten so severe that it prevented them from functioning on a daily basis, and 10 percent of students said they considered taking their own lives at least once.
Today, most colleges and universities, including St. John’s, offer confidential on-campus psychological counseling services, and an increasing number of students are utilizing this option, DeRosa said. St. John’s counseling center is located in Marillac Hall.
However, the at-risk students who suffer from depression and who are prone to suicide are usually the last to take advantage of those services. As a result, colleges are becoming more proactive in seeking out those students who need help the most.
“It could be a treatment plan, but it doesn’t mean they are required to take medication,” DeRosa emphasized. “We don’t mandate anything.”
Regular exercise was also found to restore chemical balance and ease psychological pressure.
“One of the best ways of dealing with feelings of depression is getting some exercise, and it doesn’t have to be intense,” DeRosa said.