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Prevent Suicide in College Students

Beginning or returning to college can be an exciting time for students. Each year is a new chapter filled with learning, discovery and opportunities. But, how students respond to the stressors of higher education varies from person to person — and sometimes anxiety, depression and substance use challenges affect physical and mental wellbeing. If not addressed, these can worsen and students may begin to have suicidal thoughts.

Since the pandemic, rates of depression and anxiety have increased substantially. A study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry reviewed more than 60 studies and concluded that 33.3% of college students in the world experienced depression and anxiety, and the prevalence of anxiety in North America was 48%. Findings also show that students with depression or anxiety are at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Four out of five college students who consider or attempt suicide show clear warning signs before the attempt. Here are a few things parents, peers and college staff and faculty can do to help prevent suicide in college students:

  1. Set realistic expectations about what college life is like. Before they head off to college, parents should have a sit-down conversation with their child. Talk about expectations heading into college and ask questions to ensure clear communication.
  2. Look for warning signs — and talk about them. Early intervention is critical to preventing suicide. Some people believe talking about suicide puts the idea into a person’s mind, but according to the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Manual, that is not true — asking the question can actually be a lifeline. Signs and symptoms of suicide include talking about self-harm, withdrawing from friends and family, expressing hopelessness, giving away possessions and increased alcohol or drug use. The person may also show more anger, anxiety and dramatic mood changes.
  3. Reach out to the college’s mental health services department. Most college campuses offer services for people who are at risk for suicide. If someone shows signs and symptoms, reach out. Encourage the person you know to seek appropriate professional help and take advantage resources for people considering suicide. If the individual needing help is reluctant to talk to someone face-to-face, strongly suggest they contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.

In addition to those three takeaways above, parents, staff and peers can take MHFA for Higher Education. The course is designed to decrease stigma, address tough challenges and allow students, parents and school staff and faculty to show up fully in their daily lives and support those around them.

Learn more about the course and find one near you today.

College is unlike any other experience. It pushes people to think differently with endless opportunities. But the expectation to receive good grades, make new friends and — for some — to live independently can be too much. Prevent suicide in college students and #BeTheDifference for this community by taking MHFA. You’ll learn the 5-step MHFA Action Plan (ALGEE) and other strategies to help and support others.



Casey, S., Varela, A., Marriot, J., Coleman, C., & Harlow, B. (2022, Feb.). The influence of diagnosed mental health conditions and symptoms of depression and/or anxiety on suicide ideation, plan, and attempt among college students: Findings from the Healthy Minds Study, 2018–2019. Journal of Affective Disorders, 298(Part A), 464-471.

Mayo Clinic Health System Staff. (2022, July 4). College students and depression: A guide for parents. Mayo Clinic Health System.

Mental Health First Aid. (2020). Mental Health First Aid USA. National Council for Behavioral Health d/b/a National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

Wenzhen, L., Zhao, Z., Chen, D., Peng, Y., & Lu, Z. (2022, March 16). Prevalence and associated factors of depression and anxiety symptoms among college students: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 63(11), 1222-1230.

Zhai, Y. & Du, X. (2022, Oct.). Trends and prevalence of suicide 2017–2021 and its association with COVID-19: Interrupted time series analysis of a national sample of college students in the United States. Psychiatry Research, 316, 114796.

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