September is Suicide Prevention Month: College Students at Risk, Louise Underdahl, Ph.D., MPA, MSLS

September is Suicide Prevention Month: College Students at Risk, Louise Underdahl, Ph.D., MPA, MSLS

Suicide prevention is a major public health challenge and a top priority in the World Health Organization Mental Health Action Plan for 2013-2020 (WHO, 2013).  For college students, suicide is the second leading cause of death and affects 7.5 per 100,000 (Bernanke et al., 2017); 33% of college students reported that depression affected their productivity and 10% admitted considering suicide within the previous year (American College Health Association, 2015).  Data suggest an association between hopelessness, desperation, and intense loneliness and suicidal ideation (Bernanke et al., 2017). 

Noting the correlation between student engagement and academic success, Godor (2017) posits that non-traditional students' academic success may be sabotaged by social facts, rather than individual vulnerabilities.  Social facts may be defined as non-traditional students' perceptions of academic overregulation leading to Durkheim’s "fatalistic suicide."  The situation is further complicated by clinicians' aversion to working with suicidal individuals due to risks of litigation (Harned et al., 2017). 

Training people who interact with at-risk individuals to intervene effectively has proven successful in reducing suicide (Harned et al., 2017).  One possible strategy would be to recognize faculty as "key gatekeepers" (WHO, 2014) and develop faculty proficiency in assessing and reporting suicide risk.  Students interact with faculty on a regular basis, while only 50% of suicide victims contacted a health professional in the 12 months preceding their death (Harned et al., 2017). Educating faculty could be a viable strategy for promoting wellness and mental health initiatives in institutions of higher education.



American College Health Association. (2015). National College Health Assessment II.  Hanover, MD

Bernanke, J., Galfalvy, H. C., Mortali, M. G., Hoffman, L. A., Moutier, C., Nemeroff, C. B., ... & Oquendo, M. A. (2017). Suicidal ideation and behavior in institutions of higher learning: A latent class analysis. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 253-259.   DOI:

Godor, B. P. (2017). Academic fatalism: applying Durkheim’s fatalistic suicide typology to student drop-out and the climate of higher education. Interchange, 48(3), 257-269.

Harned, M. S., Lungu, A., Wilks, C. R., & Linehan, M. M. (2017). Evaluating a multimedia tool for suicide risk assessment and management: The Linehan Suicide Safety Net. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 73

World Health Organization. (2013). Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2020 (pp. 48). Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2014). Preventing suicide: A global imperative. Retrieved from

Additional Resources for Educators, Consumers, and Professionals: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:



Todd Hastings's picture Todd Hastings | September 21, 2017 7:23 pm MST

Many thanks to Louise for posting this critical reminder of how suicide is a clear public health problem, particularly among our young people in college.  We all should reflect on how we can help and need to support a discussion within campus, virtual, and general communities. 

Todd Hastings

Louise Underdahl's picture Louise Underdahl | September 22, 2017 5:36 pm MST
Hi Todd,
We all should reflect on how we can help and need to support a discussion within campus, virtual, and general communities. 
Thank you for validating the importance of teamwork in developing proactive suicide prevention measures.  As an example, the University of Phoenix (UOPX) Life Resource Center provides confidential 24/7 online and telephone support to help UOPX students manage stress, depression, and anxiety.  Students may learn more about these free services by accessing the Life Resource Center from the Program tab on the student website.
I am interested in learning about strategies used by other institutions!

About the Author

Louise Underdahl



Journal of Leadership Studies-Symposium Piece-Relational Leadership: Perspectives of Key Constructs on Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Equity in Higher Education

Psychology Today
Blog Posts Published


American Psychological Association Conference-Utilizing Clinical Hypnotherapeutic Intervention with CBT to Treat Pandemic-Aug. 13-2021 Symptomology

ILA Conference Geneva Switzerland 2021
Presenter -Topic-"The Stress Arc in Leadership and 3 Powerful Disciplines for Mitigating Major Stress Impacts in a New Era"-Upcoming
Presenter -Topic-“Improving Higher Education’s Role in Diversity and Social Equity through Relational Leadership in the New Era”-Upcoming
Presenter-Topic-"Healthcare Leadership-Using Virtuous Leadership in Chaos to Reimagine Beneficial Practices of Employee Cognitive Psychology"-Upcoming
2021-Knowledge Without Boundaries National Summit-College of Doctoral Studies Research Conference-University of Phoenix-Panel Discussion-"Exploring Emergent Trends in Leadership and Education"-Based on published symposia article from the Journal of Leadership Studies-


Louise Underdahl
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