Young adult suicides on decline, Census data show

School of Communication
University of Miami

Suicide occurs every 15.2 minutes and is attempted every 38 seconds. As the college semester is in full swing, campus counselors are dealing with it on a daily basis.

As part of her job as a licensed mental health counselor at the University of Miami, Dr. Patricia Gilmore speaks and listens to students who contemplate suicide.

“We have a frequent amount of students who contemplate suicide. However, it is no different at another college. Suicide contemplation is prevalent across the country,” said Gilmore.

UM’s Center for Student Services. Source: Kyli Singh.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there was a 19 percent decrease in the number of suicides in young adults ages 15 to 24 from 1996 to 2006. However, that drop does not stop suicide from being the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-old adults.

College-aged students are more susceptible to suicide versus another age group because in the early 20s, young adults tend to experience their first onset. Along with depression, other common risk factors include strong feelings of social isolation, prior mental history and substance abuse.

“There are key changes in middle and high school ages versus college students. In college, social relations become more intimate. We become a little more skilled in our interactions,” said Dr. Jeremy Prettit, a psychology professor at Florida International University.

Prettit’s primary research is in child and adolescent behaviors regarding suicide and depression.

He discusses how a combination of personality traits and risk factors can lead one to suicide. The two most common personality traits that lead one to commit suicide is neuroticism, when people extend emotional distress more than others, and impulsivity.

According to the interpersonal psychological theory, the three main risk factors for suicide are burdensomeness, social disconnection and the ability to kill yourself.

“A lot of people want to die, but not everyone has the ability to do it,” he shares.

The Census Bureau data show that, from the years 1996 to 2006, the number of 15- to 24-year-old male suicides is significantly lower than the number of 15- to 24-year-old female suicides.

However, Prettit claims that statistics can be misleading. While men die from suicide more, women actually attempt at several times the rate of men.

“The difference is the method. The majority of women will do so by overdosing or cutting themselves, but with men, the majority will use firearms. That accounts for the discrepancy,” he pointed out.

Many colleges, such as UM, have developed successful programs to raise suicide awareness.

Gilmore has served as UM Lifeguard’s chairperson for almost three years. Lifeguard, UM’s suicide prevention program organizes table events for suicide awareness and provides suicide prevention training in the spring on how to help and refer a person who is in need of professional care.

Additionally, the committee holds a 5K Walk on campus to raise money for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“The best way for a campus to tackle the issue of suicide is to have people on every level involved. Having the most comprehensive multidisciplinary team will tackle the issue, reduce stigma and create awareness,” said Gilmore.

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