Most leading public universities do not track student suicides, says report

Nearly half of the leading public universities in America do not maintain a record of suicides among their students, even as measures are being taken to improve mental health on campus. According to the latest findings by the Associated Press (AP), of 100 largest public universities, only 46 were tracking student suicides, with 27 of them doing it consistently since 2007.

Furthermore, 43 of the remaining 54 universities denied tracking suicides, while nine of them could provide only limited data and failed to answer questions pertaining to the consistency of the records. The rest two did not give related statistics. The University of Wisconsin (UW) and the Arizona State University (ASU) were among the nation’s largest schools that did not track suicides, the AP report revealed. Incidentally, both these schools dealt with student suicides in the past, with at least two suicides at ASU in 2017.

Health officials at Wisconsin were reportedly finalizing a database to record the causes of student deaths. According to Dr. Agustina Marconi, an epidemiologist at the UW, they would develop a formal model to keep a record of all student deaths at the university.

It is noteworthy that many American universities claim to have increased spending on mental health services, following the call from the American Psychological Association (APA) and other groups to address the crisis on school campuses. However, in the absence of related data, as the experts cite, schools are unable to measure if their efforts have brought any success in saving lives. “If you don’t collect the data, you’re doing half the job…We need information in mental health if we’re actually going to be able to better tailor health and healing,” said Gordon Smith, a former U.S. senator from Oregon.

Tracking student suicides is a tough task

However, tracking student suicides has its own set of problems and challenges. It is not always possible to confirm the cause of death, as medical examiners do not always notify universities about the same. Some families prefer to keep it private due to legal liability. Sometimes, even schools collecting data could not figure out if deaths that occur away from campus or during breaks should be counted as suicide. Moreover, schools are also wary of making the suicide statistics public as it could damage their reputations.

Efforts are being made to push universities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Washington to collect suicide data of their students, but with little or no success. After Madison Holleran, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, committed suicide in 2014, one of her former teachers pushed for a law that would require the state’s public universities to track and publicize annual suicide numbers. However, it could not make it to a vote amid schools’ reluctance to share the numbers. In Washington, a similar proposal could not see the light of day amid budget woes last year, while lawmakers in Pennsylvania still await vote on proposed recommendations to push data collection.

Suicide rates on the rise

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) suggests that suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming 44,965 lives in the country every year. Suicidal behaviors – suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts – may lead to reduced self-esteem and psychological distress. In addition, stigma associated with it can delay treatment and reduce social support. Experts advocate for the need of educating behavior counselors, clinicians and the public on how to help suicide survivors overcome stigma and lead a normal social life.

Studies show that people with suicidal behaviors usually suffer from mental problems like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. So such individuals should immediately seek professional assistance. The 24/7 Mental Health Helpline offers help to people battling mental health conditions. Reach out to us at our 24/7 mental rehab helpline (855) 653-8178 for detailed information on best available treatments in your vicinity. You can also chat online with one of our representatives for further assistance.