Suicide Increase Highlights Mental Health of Students

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The suicides of two UC Berkeley students last spring and the increase in national suicide rates are forcing officials to take a closer look at student mental health on campuses across the United States.

More college students are reporting mental health problems, according to the National Institute of Mental Health Services.

Though UC Berkeley officials report there has been no increase in the campus suicide rate, university statistics only include suicides that occur on campus. The university's statistics do not include suicides that may have occurred in co-op houses, International House, sororities and fraternities and the apartment complexes that house students. Since 1993 there have been thirteen suicides on the UC Berkeley campus.

"Generally suicides are notoriously underreported," says Jeff Prince, director of counseling and psychological services at the Tang Center. "The suicides that take place at home or on school breaks often are not counted."

The lack of information leaves UC Berkeley officials in the dark. Prince says suicide data is "notoriously inaccurate."

"To my own knowledge there is no data to determine the reason for the increase in reported student mental health problems," Prince says.

Untreated depression is the main cause of suicide.

UC Berkeley's Counseling and Psychological Services screened 109 students, faculty and staff for depression last October. More than half were at risk for major depressive or manic depressive disorders and received counseling referrals. Of the 3,500 students that use the Counseling and Psychological Services at the Tang Center each year, 30 to 40 percent suffer from a form of depression.

Price says some students are ill- prepared to deal with societal pressure-a plausible reason for student suicide.

Other contributing factors include alcohol or drug use, a family history of suicide, access to firearms or chronic pain that does not lessen with treatment.

Many often blame the high stress academic environment of schools such as UC Berkeley for student suicide and depression. However, academic pressure is not typically the reason students commit suicide, Prince says.

Most of the students that come to UC Berkeley are equipped with sophisticated coping mechanisms for high-stress situations, Prince says.

Though the university has no way of knowing the exact number of students who commit suicide each year or how many students suffer from depression, the university offers a variety of counseling services to help improve campus mental health.

In the past year the Counseling and Psychological Services at the Tang Center redesigned its mental health program to be more accessible to students. The program started a drop-in counseling program and eliminated wait lists.

The Tang Center also trains health workers involved in student life to identify at-risk students, Prince says.

"Our educational resources are the most important and effective tool we have to reach those people in trouble," Prince says.

Despite the services, some students feel university resources are not advertised enough.

Christopher Dang, a 3rd-year student, says the Tang Center needs to advertise their mental health services more.

"I think a lot of stuff they advertise for the Tang center is physical health rather than for mental health," Dang says.

University officials have also developed networks to help the families and friends of students who commit suicide. These networks came on the heels of the suicides of two UC Berkeley students in separate incidences last spring.

"There has to be a network of support administering to the shock people experience," says Karen Kenney, Dean of Student Affairs. "We are the people that organize, set up memorials, retrieve the student's belongings and put friends and families in touch with counseling services."

The two suicides last spring were related. One of the students who committed suicide acted as a mentor to the other student. Because the victims knew each other and were closely linked, no physical construction to prevent further suicides or increased police traffic was implemented around Evans Hall, says UC police Captain Guillermo Beckford.


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