Local resources assist students while suicide rate increases

Research shows that a significant portion of college students experience mental health problems, including suicidal ideations.
Photo courtesy of InterventionStrategies.com

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-aged youth and the leading cause of death nationally. Within the last 40 years, youth suicide rates have more than tripled.  

Tallahassee’s resources are growing and becoming more active in preventing this growing epidemic.

Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in Florida. In 2016, there were 3,122 suicide deaths with 26 suicide deaths occurring in Leon county alone, according to Florida’s Bureau of Vital Statistics.

This lead to Florida being ranked the 21st highest state for suicide deaths by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016.

Many resources are available in Tallahassee for those considering suicide or grieving a lost life.

“It is essential to give college students access to suicide loss prevention information and to encourage help-seeking,” said Pam Mezzina, Director for the Florida Suicide Prevention Coalition. “This can include giving presentations on campus, highlighting available counseling and mental health resources on campus.”

Florida State University’s Suicide Prevention Research Team does research focused on preventing suicide and improving well-being among college students. The team also conducts research related to college student mental health in the areas of disordered eating, LGBTQ students, athletes, and students with disabilities.

Florida A&M University's Counseling Services has seen an increase in help-seeking students with more than 3,000 appointments a year.

“We see the most suicidal ideations around finals and the end of semesters because grades are really important. That’s why everyone’s here. Because they value their education,” said Chika Hooper, coordinator of clinical programs and outreach coordinator for the counseling center.

According to Hooper, when determining if a student is having suicidal ideations or tendencies, the first step FAMU counselors take is to “flat out ask.”

They also look to see if there is a history with suicidal attempts, if the student knows anyone that has taken their life or if the student has the means to carry out the act.

According to the 2017 Annual Report from the Florida Suicide Prevention Coordinating Council, in 2016, Florida suicide rates for white and black males were higher than the rates for their female counterparts. The suicide rate for white males was the highest, while the suicide rate for black females was the lowest.

Research done by Mental Health America showed that adult African-Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness than white adults. Also, adult African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than white adults.

According to U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, poverty level affects mental health status. African-Americans living below the poverty level, compared to those over twice the poverty level, are 3 times more likely to report psychological distress.

Approximately 52 percent of college students living off-campus and not living with relatives fall below the poverty line.

"But where minorities differ (in finding help) is this: many individuals in minority communities prefer to seek professional help from individuals of the same minority group. It can be difficult to find a mental health professional of the same minority group, given the existing shortage of all mental health professionals locally, statewide and nationally,” said Alisa LaPolt, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Florida.

NAMI’s college guide can be downloaded on their website and includes advice on seeking counseling, knowing the privacy laws and noticing the signs of depression in other people.

“Some common reactions that suicide loss survivors experience are shock and disbelief, guilt and shame, confusion, anger, sadness, questions and a sense of abandonment. Every person grieves differently and there is no right or wrong,” said Mezzina.

The Big Bend Hospice Suicide Loss Support Group meets monthly at the Jean McCully Family House, a hospice home where families can receive bereavement support.

“I am moved how the survivors in our group validate, encourage and support each other through the heart-breaking and overwhelming experience of coping with a suicide loss,” said Mezzina.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to those in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is Nov. 17, 2018.