She was three and half hours away, but the voice on the other line was locked in her bathroom and contemplating suicide. Using what the Canoga Park native learned as a psychology major, Iris Melo, kept making deals with her friend telling her not to commit suicide for an hour, then two hours and eventually three and half hours until she got to her friend.
The 22 year-old convinced her friend not to commit suicide and referred her to a counselor she knew to help her.
‘Obviously a peer isn’t the qualified person to be giving psychological help so it’s important for them to refer them to someone who can help them,’ Melo said. ‘I dealt with people who experienced suicidal thoughts a lot as an undergrad.’
According to a study by the National Research Consortium of Counseling Centers in Higher Education, which surveyed 26,000 students at 70 colleges including CSUN, more than half of the participants reported that they had thought about suicide.
The number one reason they cited for suicidal thinking was wanting relief from emotional or physical pain, followed by problems with romantic relationships, desire to end their life and problems with school or academics.
Fifteen percent reported they have seriously considered ending their lives and more than five percent reported attempting suicide at least once in their lifetime.
Among their findings, researchers at the APA concluded that individuals need to be offered help at different points in the suicide spectrum, not just when they’re seriously considering suicide. By looking at suicidal thoughts and behaviors as the main issue, suicidal thoughts and acts can be decreased.
‘The current model to identify students who are suicidal is insufficient,’ said Dr. David Drum, co-author of the study.
‘A lot of effort is placed to help students who are suicidal but more effort needs to be placed on students before they start to seriously consider suicide.’
It’s not just university counselors who need to look for students showing suicidal tendencies like: hopelessness, attraction to death, mood swings and depressive.’ Faculty, staff, administrators and student leaders must also keep an eye out, Drum said.
‘A lack of a sense of belonging makes people tip over to suicide,’ Drum said. ‘There’s a direct correlation with feeling disconnected and higher rates of suicidal tendencies.’
Dustin Concors, junior CTVA major, agreed that feeling excluded can help push someone over the edge to suicide.
‘Everybody wants to feel like they belong to something whether it’s a club, Greek organization or even with your co-workers,’ Concors said. ‘Someone may feel like they don’t have anything to live for, but you live for the people around you because you don’t want to let them down.’
For Concors a friend or significant other play a huge role when it comes to identifying and helping a potentially suicidal person because they are so comfortable around them most of the time that they will open up. The next step is getting them professional help, which he added can be a problem.
‘They don’t seek out help because they’re embarrassed and feel like they’re going to be looked down on,’ Concors said.
Getting people to receive professional help is one of the biggest hurdles that Marshall Bloom, counselor at CSUN’s university counseling services, head of the peer suicide prevention program the Blues Project and director of the CSUN hotline, encounters in his work.
‘As mental health professionals our hope would be that troubled students, especially those with emotional psychological issues, would seek out our help,’ Bloom said. ‘Or if they wouldn’t take that initiative themselves that they be referred to us by a friend.’ However that is not always the case, Bloom said, because of the stigma that follows mental help and how taboo the subject is.
Bloom said that the result of the study is a fair representation of the issue of suicide at CSUN.
The Center for Disease Control cites suicide at the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds and in that age group, suicide accounts for 12.3 percent of all deaths annually.’ According to the statistic, CSUN would have had about 2,040 students seriously considered suicide within the 12 months prior to answering the survey in spring 2006 and 1,700 attempted suicide at least once in their lifetime.
According CSUN’s university counseling services, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students.
Through Blues Project’s class presentations, Bloom said, members attempt to inform the campus on the characterizations that lead to suicide and depression.
‘One of the things we try to do is educate the campus about depression because it’s one of the major precursors to suicidal behavior,’ Bloom said. ‘On a campus there is a ten percent incident rate of depression at any given time and approximately one percent of those people become suicidal.’
He added that aof the people experiencing suicidal ideas at CSUN, three quarters of them told a peer and about half of those peers referred them or sought out additional aid.
‘At the outset is the challenge of having the individual get involved in appropriate treatment,’ Bloom said. ‘And once involved having them remain in the program until they feel better.’