The risk for major psychiatric disorders peaks during late adolescence and early adulthood, especially during the transition from home to a life of partial independence, the investigators say. Being away from one’s family and friends coupled with the stress of new social and academic pressures can exacerbate depression and anxiety and, in some, could become the proverbial final straw that triggers suicidal behavior, the researchers say.
Somewhat to their surprise, the researchers say, they found that students who reported thinking repeatedly about suicide were no more likely to attempt it than those who did so only once. The 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.
Ideally, all incoming freshmen should be screened for risk factors with a brief questionnaire during their first semester of college and during any subsequent visits to the university health center.
“College campuses are ideal for suicide prevention because the students are a captive audience, so universities should take advantage of this by creating easy access to mental health services during this critical period of young adult development,” said senior investigator Amelia Arria, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the University of Maryland Center on Young Adult Health and Development.