Recent study shows suicidal thoughts are common

A recent study found suicide is a more common problem than researchers previously thought.

Amy Oslica / Graphic Designer

Kyle Masterson was a freshman at MU in 2006. He was a business major, with a 4.0 GPA who lived in Laws Hall. But on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2006, he died by suicide.

"A lot of times you think of somebody who's about to commit suicide, and they're depressed or withdrawn," Masterson's mother Kathy said. "He didn't do that."

A survey presented to the American Psychological Association suggests Masterson's problem is far from rare. According to the report, more than half of American college students consider suicide.

"It's a big-time transition," MU psychology professor Ines Segert said. "They're away from home, sometimes for the first time. There's also a lot of social comparison and stress and more exposure to alcohol."

The psychologists who created the survey, two professors and a graduate student from the University of Texas, were surprised with the results. Not only are the figures much higher than expected, but they also imply suicidal thinking is as common as depression, substance abuse and eating disorders.

The researchers are using this survey to advocate a new, more comprehensive approach to suicide prevention.

"There are many facets to good campus suicide prevention," Chris Brownson, one of the UT researchers, said in an e-mail. "One important element is raising the awareness of all members of the campus about the problem of suicide."

Another important factor is the campus's culture and overall mental health, which Brownson said could discourage suicidal thoughts from occurring in the first place.

Members of the mental health department and Wellness Resource Center agreed with the study's philosophy.

"There are a lot of different layers involved in suicide prevention," Missouri Partners in Prevention Coordinator Joan Masters said. "Suicide doesn't just rest on the shoulders of those who are considering it. It's everyone's issue, and we are all responsible."

For this reason, researchers and mental health professionals agree sensitivity and action are the most effective forms of intervention.

"Teachers aren't looking out for you like they did in high school," MU freshman Kacy Moser said. "Which is why you really have to be looking out for your friends, or your roommate or your classmates. We have to be the adults now."

Students who took the survey were also asked to cite the reason for their suicidal thinking, the most popular of which included wanting relief from emotional or physical pain and romantic relationships.

Researchers also found, for various reasons, that more than half of the students who had suicidal feelings did not discuss them with anyone.

"It is important for everyone to know that if things are going bad, there is help available," Youth Suicide Prevention Project coordinator Scott Perkins said. "And there is nothing bad or wrong about needing or getting help."

Each year, more than 800 Missourians die from suicidal causes and around 5,200 additional people are hospitalized after suicide attempts according figures from the state health department.

Missouri ranks 22nd in the nation for its rate of suicide deaths, calculated based on reported suicides per 100,000 people, and holds suicide as the second leading cause of death within the state.

"There are various factors why Missouri's rate is so high," Perkins said. "Mostly within the western states, people are more spread out and can't keep an eye out for each other."

The Wellness Resource Center and Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee will hold Suicide Prevention Week from Sept. 8-12. During the week, the organizations aim to reduce suicide rates through educating community leaders, students, teachers, media outlets and public officials on the prevention techniques and warning signs of potential suicides.

MU is planning several events for the week, including a candlelight vigil for suicide victims, forums and suicide prevention training.

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