Brittany Rebecca Helton

AFSP-Funded Study Links Depression, Lack of Support, to College Student Suicide

by on Sep.22, 2010, under Publications

Depression and the feeling of a lack of support appear to be correlated with suicidal thoughts and behavior in some college students, according to research from Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, the University of Maryland and other institutions.

The study, funded by AFSP and the National Institutes of Health, and published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, followed more than a thousand students throughout their college years, identifying factors linked to suicidal thinking and highlighting the importance of spotting high-risk students early on and referring them for treatment.

Of the 1,085 students, 151 (12 percent) said they had pondered committing suicide at least once, 37 of whom (24.5 percent) said they did so repeatedly. Ten of the 151 said they made specific plans or carried out full-fledged attempts during college. Two of the 10 said they attempted suicide without ever planning to do so. Of the 151, 17 students reported attempting suicide before college, and 22 reported planning a suicide before college but not attempting it.

Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death among college-age students in the United States, with some 1,100 deaths each year.

The study also showed that students who reported thinking repeatedly about suicide were no more likely to attempt it than those who did so only once. This surprising finding suggests that mental health professionals cannot assume that those who think about suicide more often are at a higher risk, nor are those who have a single suicidal thought necessarily safer than those who ponder suicide repeatedly.

“The results emphasize the need for an anonymous, web-based outreach to all college students, like our Interactive Screening Program,” AFSP Medical Director Dr. Paula Clayton said. “Students need be properly screened for the risk factors that can lead to suicide, and then engaged in coming in for an assessment.”

For additional information on this study, please contact Dr. Amelia Arria at