Study Reveals Suicide Risk Statistics

One in four of college students who have sought on-campus mental health assistance has seriously considered suicide, according to a new national study that The Center for the Study of Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State University released on Monday. The study found that of the 28,000 students questioned who received mental health services at 66 campus counseling centers nationwide, 11 percent had seriously considered suicide only before they began college, six percent only after starting college, and eight percent both prior to and after beginning college.

When asked whether this ratio accurately represents the mental health situation at Harvard, University Health Services Director of Behavioral Health and Academic Counseling Paul Barreira that the number of Harvard students seeking mental health services who have seriously considered suicide is much lower than the national statistic, since the proportion of students who receive these services is considerably higher than the national norm.

“Given how many students we see, it’s a much different figure for us,” Barreira said, noting that surveys consistently report that 40-50 percent of each graduating class has sought out on-campus mental health services at least once.

Barreira attributes this high participation rate to a remarkably small student to staff ratio—one staff member per 700 students as compared to one staff member per 1000-1500 students on average nationally—and the high visibility of mental health services on campus.

Student organizations such as the Student Mental Health Liaisons have been helping students navigate the mental health services available on campus and encouraging students to take advantage of them.

“Our aim is to eliminate the false notion of Harvard [is] an uncaring and unsupportive place by pointing students to various on-campus resources of which many, especially freshmen, are unaware,” said SMHL co-director Sara R. Zaidi ’11. Zaidi referenced a social norms campaign that SMHL launched this year to publicize Harvard-specific facts about mental health issues and services.

Some undergraduates were not completely convinced that enough students were seeking out mental health services and receiving adequate help. “Regardless of whether the statistic is surprisingly high or not, it is still high in an absolute sense when you consider that more people should be going to Mental Health Services at UHS for less serious problems, even if they just have problems sleeping or have relationship concerns,” Daniel M. Bear ’10 said. “People who go to mental health services are a small fraction of people who have seriously considered suicide.”

Helen Yu ’12 commented that while MHS and Room 13—a peer-to-peer counseling service that operates under UHS supervision—provide accessible and highly confidential help, not all students are aware of these services, and many are simply unwilling to go.