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Suicide is the second greatest cause of death among college students in the United States, Dr. Matthew Ross, associate professor of Psychiatry at the Medical School, reported yesterday.
"Adolescents of college age are the highest potential suicide risk within the population," Ross stated in a paper prepared for the 50th annual session of the American College of Physicians. Only automobile accidents take the lives of more college students than suicides.
In 1966, nearly 100,000 college students threatened suicide, one in ten of these actually attempted it, and 1000 succeeded in taking their own lives. In the 15 to 19 age group, where auto accidents and cancer are the leading causes of death, suicide takes the lives of 700 each year.
The suicide rate for college students is 50 per cent higher than for Americans in general of a comparable age, Dr. Ross said, adding that the number of suicides has been rising in both the high school and college age groups.
"Suicide is recognizable, predictable, and preventable," he emphasized, noting that "some kind of social isolation, most often a disorganized home or a breakdown of family structure" was often found in the backgrounds of adolescents who attempted suicide.
"Other socially isloating situations arose from a sense of parental rejection, disruption of a romantic involvement, frequent residential shifts, and behavioral conflict with parents."
Ross cited parental loss or separation or a household move as the determining factor in 76 per cent of the suicides threatened or attempted by children and adolescents, noting that problems which an adult would regard as minor might seem insurmountable to adolescents.
"Because adolescents are impulsive," Ross added, "we must take them seriously when they express suicidal intention in any form."
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