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Published November 20, 2010, 12:00 AM

Colleges emphasize suicide education

Depression screening could reduce deaths
With suicide the second-highest cause of death for college students, area campuses are working to screen for depression and educate students to recognize the warning signs.

By: Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, INFORUM

With suicide the second-highest cause of death for college students, area campuses are working to screen for depression and educate students to recognize the warning signs.

North Dakota State University is the only university in the upper Midwest with an interactive screening program that identifies students at risk for suicide.

It allows students to take an online assessment and communicate anonymously with a counselor, making it easier for some students to get help.

“Early detection, early treatment and establishing a relationship with a student before they get to the point where they think they have no hope is how we can prevent suicide,” said Amber Bach-Gorman, a counselor with NDSU’s counseling center.

The leading cause of death among college students is accidents.

At a Concordia College event on college student depression this week, nearly all of the 100 students in attendance raised their hands when asked if their lives have been touched by suicide.

Concordia student Britney Johnson is president of a new student organization called Active Minds to promote awareness of mental health issues and decrease the stigma.

“I think everyone on campus has a story that relates to someone with depression, but we just don’t talk about it,” said Johnson, a psychology major. “That’s what needs to change.”

Kayla Goebel, a graphic design student at Minnesota State Community and Technical College, shared her own struggles during the Concordia event.

Goebel attempted suicide as a high school sophomore and has a family history with suicide and depression.

The 22-year-old said she thinks many college students struggle with depression because they’re transitioning into adulthood and facing new stresses.

“Sometimes it’s hard when you’re younger to see that whatever valley you hit right now, that it’s always going to go back to normal,” Goebel said.

Depression is the No. 1 reason area college students seek help from their campus counseling centers. Anxiety ranks second.

NDSU’s counseling center implemented the interactive screening program a year ago with funding from the North Dakota chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Brenda Weiler, who serves on the board of the North Dakota AFSP chapter, said they’re working to bring the program to other area campuses.

Bach-Gorman, the counselor who works with the program at NDSU, said 250 students randomly receive an e-mail each week inviting them to take the web-based screening method.

Each student receives an assessment and can communicate with a counselor. Everything is anonymous unless the students choose to identify themselves.

At colleges around the country with the program, about 12 to 15 percent of undergraduate students who receive the e-mails take the assessment.

The figure at NDSU is between 4 and 7 percent, Bach-Gorman said. She thinks that number may be lower here due to the tendency in the Midwest to not ask for help.

The majority of the NDSU students who take the survey receive more severe assessments.

“The ones that do reach out for services are really, really struggling,” Bach-Gorman said.

If you go

  • What: National Survivors of Suicide Day conference

  • When: 11:30 a.m. today

  • Where: Concordia College Jones Conference Center in the Knutson Campus Center

  • Info: Simultaneous conferences by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will be held across the nation for survivors of suicide loss. You can also register at www.afsp.org to participate from your home computer.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590