Beyond Books: Recognizing Suicide Risk Among College Students

United States Germany North America Higher Education News International Studies by Erudera News Dec 27, 2023

mental wellbeing

In a world where societal expectations, academic pressure, and other challenges are part of daily experiences, student mental health has become a global concern.

In this insightful conversation with Erudera News, psychotherapist Irina Ciureanu, who specializes in transactional analysis, clinical hypnosis, traumatic experiences, panic attacks, anxiety and depression, spoke about the struggle that college students worldwide face with their mental well-being.

She went on to discuss the warning signs of suicide among students and proactive measures that universities can take, highlighting the need for regular check-ins and awareness campaigns.

Ciureanu also suggests integrating mental health education into the curriculum to equip students with essential coping skills.

Erudera: What are the main issues students struggle with, and which factors impact them the most?

Irina Ciureanu: Research consistently indicates high rates of mental health problems among students. A systematic review published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2019 found that approximately one in three students worldwide experience mental health difficulties, with anxiety and depression being the most common disorders.

Some other key findings from the research show that: academic stress significantly contributes to poor mental health among students, financial stress, transition, adjustment challenges, support systems, mental health services on campus, friends and family, perceived stigma, and substance abuse and sleep difficulties can also exacerbate mental health problems in students.

Transitioning from high school to college or university can be challenging for students. First-year students report higher levels of stress and mental health issues compared to students in other years.

Erudera: How do societal pressures, academic stress, and high expectations impact students’ mental health?

Irina Ciureanu: Societal pressures, academic stress, and high expectations can significantly impact students’ mental health. The pressure to conform to societal expectations and standards, such as achieving top grades or pursuing prestigious careers, can create feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. This, coupled with the stress of academic demands, including heavy workloads and competitive environments, can lead to anxiety, perfectionism, and self-criticism.

Students may experience chronic stress and burnout, resulting in mental health challenges like depression and anxiety disorders. Additionally, the fear of disappointing others or falling short of perceived standards can take a toll on their well-being.

It is crucial to address these issues by promoting realistic expectations, creating supportive environments, and fostering open conversations about mental health. Providing resources for stress management and coping strategies can also help students navigate these pressures and maintain their mental well-being.

Erudera: What are the most common signs and symptoms of a student who may be at risk of suicide?

Irina Ciureanu: When it comes to students’ mental health, it is crucial to be vigilant and aware of potential signs that someone may be at risk of suicide. While it is essential to approach this topic with sensitivity and care, there are specific common indicators that we should pay attention to:

  1. Expressing feelings of hopelessness or despair: if a student frequently expresses feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or a sense of being trapped, it may be a sign of significant emotional distress.
  2. Verbal or written references to suicide: direct or indirect mentions of suicide, such as discussing thoughts or plans related to self-harm or death, should be taken seriously and prompt immediate attention.
  3. Sudden withdrawal or social isolation: abruptly withdrawing from friends, family, or activities they used to enjoy is a cause for concern. Social isolation and a loss of interest in social connections are red flags to watch out for.
  4. Having concrete plans for committing suicide.
  5. Giving away possessions or making final arrangements: if a student starts distributing personal belongings, making arrangements for after their death, or tying up loose ends, it may be an indication of their intention to end their life.
  6. Increased substance abuse and engaging in self-harming behaviors.

Erudera: How can lecturers or university staff effectively recognize signs of deteriorating mental health in students? What is the role of universities in helping students struggling with mental health?

Irina Ciureanu: Recognizing signs of deteriorating mental health in students is a crucial responsibility for lecturers and university staff. To effectively identify these signs, several strategies can be employed:

Firstly, it is important for universities to provide comprehensive training and workshops on mental health awareness to staff members. This training equips lecturers and staff with the knowledge to recognize signs and symptoms associated with common mental health issues. By staying informed, they can be more attuned to potential indicators of declining mental health in students.

Lecturers and university staff should encourage open communication and establish relationships of trust with students, regular check-ins and a willingness to listen can help identify early signs of distress.

Universities should ensure staff members are familiar with the mental health resources available on campus or within the community. This includes counseling services, support groups, and crisis helplines.

Active listening skills are crucial for recognizing signs of deteriorating mental health. Lecturers and staff should be trained to listen attentively, show empathy, and respond appropriately when students share their challenges or concerns.

Lecturers and university staff should be observant of noticeable shifts in a students’ behavior, such as increased absenteeism, disengagement, or a decline in academic performance. These changes may indicate underlying mental health struggles.

Additionally, peer support programs, mental health workshops, and stress management initiatives can proactively address students’ mental health needs. Promoting mental health awareness campaigns is another crucial aspect. Universities can organize events throughout the academic year that reduce stigma, raise awareness, and encourage help-seeking behaviors among students. By offering workshops, inviting guest speakers, and providing online resources, universities foster a mentally healthy campus community.

Universities can also contribute to student well-being by promoting self-care practices, stress reduction techniques, and healthy coping strategies. Establishing a culture that prioritizes mental health sends a powerful message that seeking support is encouraged and valued.

Lastly, universities can work towards reducing academic stress by reviewing policies and procedures that contribute to an excessively demanding academic environment. Flexibility in deadlines, promoting work-life balance, and fostering a supportive academic community are steps universities can take to support students’ mental well-being. By taking a comprehensive approach to student mental health, universities fulfill their important role in promoting well-being, providing support, and creating an inclusive environment where students feel valued and empowered to seek help when needed.

Erudera: How often should they (universities) look out for students’ mental state to prevent possible suicides? How should they behave after realizing a student’s mental health has worsened?

Irina Ciureanu: When it comes to students’ mental health, universities have a responsibility to prioritize their well-being and take proactive measures to prevent possible suicides. While there is no set frequency that is universally applied, maintaining regular vigilance is essential.

Here are some key considerations:

  1. Regular check-ins: Universities should establish mechanisms for regular check-ins with students. This can be through academic advisors, designated staff members, or even anonymous mental health surveys. Regular check-ins provide opportunities to assess students’ overall well-being, identify potential challenges, and intervene if necessary.
  2. Mental health awareness campaigns: Universities should conduct mental health awareness campaigns throughout the academic year. These campaigns raise awareness about mental health, reduce stigma, and provide information on available resources. By promoting open conversations, universities encourage students to seek help when needed.
  3. Staff training: It is crucial for university staff to receive training in recognizing signs of deteriorating mental health and understanding appropriate responses. Equipping staff with the necessary knowledge and skills empowers them to identify warning signs and respond effectively.
  4. Creating a supportive environment: Universities should foster a supportive environment where students feel comfortable discussing their mental health. This involves creating spaces for open communication, promoting inclusivity, and implementing policies that prioritize student well-being.

Erudera: How often should universities raise awareness about mental health issues among students through campaigns, workshops, lectures, brochures, etc?

Irina Ciureanu: Research suggests that raising awareness about mental health issues among students through campaigns, workshops, lectures, brochures, and other initiatives should be an ongoing and consistent effort. While there is no specific frequency mentioned in research studies, several key findings and recommendations can guide universities in their approach:

  1. Regular and varied initiatives: studies indicate that universities should engage in a range of initiatives throughout the academic year to address mental health issues. This includes campaigns, workshops, lectures, brochures, and other forms of awareness activities. Offering a variety of initiatives allows universities to reach different segments of the student population and cater to diverse learning preferences.
  2. Integration into the curriculum: incorporating mental health education into the curriculum has been shown to be effective in raising awareness. Research suggests that universities should consider integrating mental health topics into relevant courses, ensuring students receive consistent exposure to mental health information and skills.
  3. Tailoring to student needs: universities should assess the specific needs of their students and design awareness initiatives accordingly. Research highlights the importance of considering factors such as cultural backgrounds, age groups, and prevalent mental health challenges within the student body. This ensures that the awareness efforts are relevant and resonate with students.
  4. Collaboration and partnerships: collaboration between universities and mental health organizations or professionals can enhance the effectiveness of awareness initiatives. Research suggests that universities should establish partnerships with local mental health services, community organizations, and student-led initiatives to expand the reach and impact of their campaigns.
  5. Long-term commitment: research emphasizes the need for sustained efforts rather than one-time events. Mental health awareness should be an ongoing commitment for universities, with initiatives planned and implemented throughout the academic year and beyond. Long-term engagement helps embed mental health awareness into the university culture and reinforces its importance as a continuous priority.

While specific research on the optimal frequency of mental health awareness initiatives may be limited, these general recommendations are supported by studies that highlight the importance of consistent and comprehensive efforts. It is essential for universities to adapt their approach based on their unique student population, available resources, and feedback from students. By maintaining a regular and varied schedule of mental health awareness initiatives, universities can create a supportive environment, reduce stigma, and ensure students have the knowledge and resources to prioritize their mental well-being.

Erudera: What are some strategies to ensure there is a culture of empathy and understanding on campuses?

Irina Ciureanu: Creating a culture of empathy and understanding on campuses is crucial for fostering a supportive and inclusive environment for students.

Here are some strategies that universities can employ to promote such a culture:

  1. Education and awareness: Universities can provide education and awareness campaigns on topics such as empathy, mental health, diversity, and inclusion. Workshops, seminars, and guest speakers can help students develop a deeper understanding of different perspectives and cultivate empathy toward others.
  2. Peer support programs: Implementing peer support programs, such as mentoring or buddy systems, can facilitate connections among students. Pairing incoming students with experienced peers can help foster empathy and create a sense of belonging. Peer support programs also provide opportunities for students to share their experiences and support each other.
  3. Training for faculty and staff: Providing training on empathy, active listening, and cultural competence for faculty and staff members can enhance their ability to understand and support students from diverse backgrounds. This training equips them with the skills necessary to create an empathetic environment in classrooms and student interactions.
  4. Inclusive policies and practices: Universities should implement policies and practices that prioritize diversity, inclusion, and respect for all individuals. This can involve promoting inclusive language, accommodating diverse learning styles and needs, and ensuring accessible physical and digital environments. When students see that their university values inclusivity, it fosters a culture of empathy and understanding.
  5. Student-led initiatives: Encouraging and supporting student-led initiatives that promote empathy and understanding can have a significant impact. Universities can provide resources, funding, and guidance to student organizations focused on social justice, mental health advocacy, diversity, and community engagement. These initiatives create platforms for students to drive change and create a culture of empathy on campus.
  6. Supportive campus services: Establishing easily accessible support services, such as counseling centers, peer counseling, or cultural affinity groups, demonstrates a commitment to student well-being and fosters a culture of empathy. These services can provide a safe space for students to seek help, connect with others who share similar experiences, and receive support during challenging times.
  7. Community engagement: Encouraging students to engage with the local community through volunteer work, service-learning projects, or partnerships with community organizations promotes empathy and understanding beyond campus boundaries. Engaging in community service activities exposes students to diverse perspectives, fosters empathy, and deepens their understanding of societal issues. By implementing these strategies, universities can create an environment where empathy and understanding are valued and practiced. This helps students develop essential interpersonal skills, embrace diversity, and contribute to a compassionate and inclusive campus culture. Measuring the success of programs aimed at promoting empathy and understanding on campus can be challenging, as the impact is often multifaceted and subjective.

However, here are some measures that can be used to assess the effectiveness of such programs:

  1. Student Engagement
  2. Attitudinal Shifts
  3. Campus Climate
  4. Reduced Stigma and Discrimination
  5. Feedback and Testimonials
  6. Long-term Outcomes

Erudera: Is it becoming necessary to introduce mental health education into the curriculum?

Irina Ciureanu: Absolutely. Introducing mental health education into the curriculum has become increasingly necessary in today’s society. We are witnessing a significant rise in mental health challenges among students, such as anxiety, depression, and stress.

By integrating mental health education into the curriculum, universities can provide students with the knowledge, skills, and strategies they need to better understand and manage their mental well-being.

One of the key benefits of incorporating mental health education is the reduction of stigma associated with mental health issues. It creates an open and supportive environment, normalizes conversations about mental health, and encourages students to seek help when needed.

Moreover, mental health education equips students with the tools to identify signs of distress in themselves and their peers, promoting early intervention and prevention of more serious mental health issues.

By addressing mental health in the curriculum, universities recognize the importance of holistic development. Academic success is not solely dependent on grades but also on emotional well-being.

Mental health education emphasizes self-care, stress management, resilience, and healthy coping strategies, enabling students to thrive academically and personally. Furthermore, research has shown a strong link between mental health and academic performance. Integrating mental health education into the curriculum supports students in managing their mental well-being, which in turn improves their focus, motivation, and overall academic achievement.

By providing mental health education, universities are not only preparing students for their academic journeys but also for life beyond the campus. These skills are invaluable throughout their lives, equipping them to navigate mental health challenges in various contexts and promoting well-being in the long run.

Finally, integrating mental health education into the curriculum helps combat misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding mental health. It promotes accurate information and fosters a more compassionate and inclusive society where mental health is prioritized and understood.

Overall, introducing mental health education into the curriculum is essential for supporting students’ mental well-being, reducing stigma, and equipping them with lifelong skills. It’s a proactive step universities can take to create a culture of understanding and ensure the success and well-being of their students.

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