You’re not alone: Suicidal ideation affects many in college and that’s OK. Resources are available


Ikram Mohamed, Projects Reporter

Content warning: This article mentions suicide


For many people, college brings independence, self-discovery and new opportunities. But this transition is not seamless for everyone — as many students suffer from declining mental health while battling depression, anxiety and sometimes suicidal ideation. Feelings that were exacerbated by the pandemic. 

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-34, with college-aged adults having the highest percentage of individuals who seriously considered suicide. 

Over the past 10 years, 47 students at the University have been reported as having died by suicide, according to data obtained by The Daily Texan from UT through the Texas Public Information Act. However, this data may not be a true representation, as it relies on those who were reported to the University. Danielle Busby, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said the number is concerning as suicide has remained the second leading cause of death among college students for many years. 

Suicide among college students is a pandemic within itself and experts who spoke with the Texan agreed it needs to be treated more seriously. Some of the mental health professionals said college campuses need to improve their mental health services to treat the crisis as they would for any other public health emergency.

For anyone struggling with their mental health or suicidal ideation, it can feel isolating. But you’re not alone and resources are available whether it’s through the University or outside of UT. Many experts agreed that one of the best ways to support other people is to reach out and directly ask peers if you suspect they’re struggling with suicidal thoughts. 

“It doesn’t offend them or all of a sudden give them an idea,” said Susan De Luca, associate professor of psychiatry at MetroHealth. “Just ask them if you have a hunch, if something seems off. People don’t want to be alone. And I can’t tell you how many times people feel relief when I’ve asked them (if they’re suicidal) and they’re like ‘Actually, I am.’”

The current mental health crisis among students started with the pandemic drastically altering the college experience, Busby said, which made students lose the freedom and community they had just gained.

“There was a lot of isolation because we weren’t able to be with our loved ones,” Busby said. “A lot of grief and a lot of loss, and in a concentrated period of time a lot of anxiety and fear.

Meera Menon, chair of the American Psychiatric Association, said students can unintentionally take this sense of community, connections they have with other students and free access to mental health resources for granted, seeing as many people who aren’t in college don’t have these basic resources.

Menon said students sometimes postpone getting help, which can worsen symptoms. In a college environment, it’s easy for students to prioritize academics over their mental health, but she said it’s necessary to understand self-care is important to be a successful, happy person. 

“If you fell off one of those electric scooters and broke your ankle, you would go to the doctor or the hospital,” Menon said. “Same thing goes for any other medical or mental health problem you’re having. If you’re not feeling well, you need to reach out for care, because there’s a whole bunch of treatments out there for the thing that you’re needing to take care of, whether it’s a medical thing or a mental health thing.” 


Help is available

Menon said UT is at the forefront of developing programs and improving access to mental health resources for students, which she encouraged students to utilize through the Counseling and Mental Health Center. 

“UT-Austin was one of the first places to create a weekly mental health, intensive outpatient program specifically designed for young adults,” Menon said. “It’s nice when people (who) are having suicidal thoughts, or having frequent mental health crises, to shore up their mental health skills. Through these programs, you can go multiple times a week for part of the day or a full day and do a lot of group therapy and expand your coping strategies for mental health symptoms.”

Last year, the CMHC saw about 28,500 students, who came into the center for a variety of concerns, with the most frequent being anxiety, stress, and depression according to the center’s impact statement from last year. The center provides students with various resources such as psychiatric referrals, individual or group counseling, and crisis counseling services. 

Students with more progressed or severe concerns are a priority within the center, said Ginny Maril, the associate director for clinical services at the CMHC. Those students immediately meet with a counselor who will assess and determine what’s going on and how they can help. Students can also utilize the center’s crisis line, which functions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

A crisis could look like anything from a panic attack to those who may seriously be considering suicide, but Maril said anyone who needs help for whatever reason should utilize these resources. 

Maril said anything ranging from financial insecurity to witnessing a traumatic event can result in a decline in students’ mental health. Additionally, other stressors such as a lack of sleep or drug and alcohol use, which are regularly seen within the college population, can increase the risk factor for suicidal ideation. 

Maril said when someone is already stressed, any increment of change can raise their stress level more compared to someone who may be less stressed. 

“The goal of counseling is to help people lower that,” Maril said. “Because the more overwhelmed someone can feel, the more suicide might start becoming an option for them or they might start thinking about it more.”

Last year, nearly 13% of students who reached out to the CMHC were seeking help for suicide ideation. 

While college students as a whole are more at risk compared to other age groups, there are some specific groups of students who are more vulnerable to suicidal ideation. One group is transgender students, who have a very high rate of suicide attempts compared to other groups. And that vulnerability increases for transgender students of color. 

In 2021, 59% of transgender and nonbinary Black youth seriously considered suicide, while nearly one in four attempted suicide in the past year, according to The Trevor Project. If you are transgender and in need of mental health services, you can call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860. 

Maril said this is a population that she’s especially concerned about.

“We just really encourage folks to notice and take some action, even if it’s scary to try to push through that because there is obviously help available,” Maril said. “Even just meeting with a counselor one time can help relieve some of that stress that students feel.”

Maril encouraged any student who is experiencing suicidal ideation to either come to the CMHC, contact UT’s crisis line at 512-471-2255 or call 988, the national suicide hotline. 

While the CMHC is a readily available resource for students to utilize, some have spoken out about concerns they have regarding the center. With issues such as the lack of diversity in therapy practices and long wait times, some students don’t view the center as accessible as it is advertised. 

Maril said she understands the CMHC may not be the right fit for everybody and even if students did not have a good experience, she still wants them to have the option to access services which is why CMHC partnered with My Student Support Program.

My SSP is a free, confidential service for students, where they can download the app and text with a counselor immediately. Along with that, they can schedule individual counseling which is offered in a variety of languages if they prefer to do therapy in a language other than English, which is the only language offered at the CMHC. 

You can sign up for My SSP by visiting and filling out the appropriate information. 


Improvements needed

With the pandemic causing long-term effects on students’ developmental milestones, De Luca said campus mental health centers across the country are going to need to drastically adjust their programming to better aid students. However, this can be difficult with mental health not being well funded on many campuses. 

Last year, Maril said the University increased the CMHC’s funding, which allowed the center to hire more counselors, implement My SSP and launch the collaborative Mental Health Assistance and Response Team program. 

De Luca said it’s important to understand that suicide prevention doesn’t have a one size fits all approach, meaning that each person requires a different set of services to help them. 

When someone attempts to access mental health services, they often just need the simplest things to improve, whether that’s transportation to mental health services or the way support is provided to them.  

Outside of mental health services, De Luca emphasized how important it is for individuals to check in with their loved ones and be alert to any changes they may see in their peers. 

De Luca said it’s best to intervene before an individual reaches a state of hopelessness. 

“You stop everything when someone uses the H-word,” De Luca said. “Hopeless (means) there’s no reason to be here, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, it’s nothing. When folks say that … I ask them ‘What’s keeping you alive right now?’ To get them to start thinking about things that make them feel a bit hopeful.”

De Luca said, in higher education, mental health needs to be treated and taken as seriously as any other physical health outcome. 

“If you have folks that are not doing well … you’re going to have folks that aren’t going to be able to go to school,” De Luca said. “The whole function of higher ed is to get people into school (and) have them graduate. It’s part of their mission when it comes down to it. (But) it’s also having folks look out for each other, extending hands.” 

If you or someone you know are in a crisis, call the national suicide hotline at 988. You can also reach UT’s crisis line 24/7 at 512-471-2255.