May 06, 2015

By Darcy Gruttadaro


At William and Mary, there have been four. At the University of Pennsylvania, there have been four. And there have been four at Tulane University. And there has been one at Yale. And there have been three at George Washington University.

But those are not just numbers, they are young lives recently lost to suicide—college students who should be launching into the prime of their lives but instead are gone. They were our sisters, brothers, children, friends, neighbors and the future generation of our nation. 

Suicide is happening too often on college campuses.  It is unthinkable that suicide is the second leading cause of death in U.S. college students and a high percentage of students who die by suicide have a mental health condition. Clearly they are not getting the help they need. We need a strong community response to address this public health crisis. Effective strategies are needed to make it OK for students to come forward to seek help. No one strategy will work in every case, but colleges and universities must find the right mix of action steps to stem the tide of campus suicides. Enough is enough.

We can all help by asking colleges we attended, that our children or family members attend or that are in our communities—what they are doing to help prevent campus suicides.

Here are 10 practical steps that colleges can use as a starting point:

  1. Get leaders talking. The more that college presidents talk about the importance of mental health and seeking help when needed, the more likely it is that students will do so.
  2. Assess adequacy of mental health services. College administrators should be asking whether adequate mental health services and supports are available for students. Adequacy should be measured by looking at wait times for appointment, what is offered to students who must wait, triage systems and the array of services available.
  3. Raise the visibility. Information on accessing mental health services should be placed prominently on the school’s website and in highly visible campus locations for the entire community to see.
  4. Develop effective crisis services. Operate a crisis hotline, provide after-hours crisis services and work with student leaders to ensure that the system in place works for them.
  5. Involve student leaders. Encourage, involve and support student clubs like NAMI on Campus. They enrich the campus community by raising mental health awareness, working to end stigma and finding solutions for mental health issues impacting students.
  6. Educate, educate, educate. Educate administrators, faculty, staff and the entire campus community about the early warning signs of mental health conditions and what to do if they see or experience them. Early action leads to far better results.
  7. Location matters. Make mental health services and supports easy to access. Don’t locate them far from the main campus or off in a dark corner.
  8. Encourage outreach. Encourage students who need help to reach out early to family, friends and other trusted sources for support. The operative word is “early” – the longer students wait, the more difficult it gets.
  9. Create connections. Create a connection to the community mental health system for those times when campus-based services are either not enough or not available.
  10. Address barriers to care. Evaluate and address barriers like a limited number of appointments, wait times, coverage for care or the affordability of services and more.

Student suicides are plain and simply tragedies that seriously unsettle and disrupt the rhythm of life on college campuses and beyond. We owe it to youth and young adults to be proactive in ending these tragedies.

NAMI is doing its part by supporting college students in creating NAMI on Campus clubs and providing them with high impact resources and information to make a positive difference. For example our Raising Mental Health Awareness presentation can be presented by students or other campus leaders to get schools talking about mental health. Download the presentation to get started! Please join us so that together we can save more young lives. 

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NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).