Talking about suicide saves lives, and we’re too often too quiet on the subject.
Last week, Elon University junior Trent Stetler died of a suicide, as confirmed by the Burlington Police Department. Following his death, discussion about suicide among college students has resonated throughout campus.
The Elon student body must come together and open campus-wide conversation. The recent loss in the community should serve as a launching point to foster productive mental health dialogue and to reinforce commitment to mental health on campus, particularly regarding anxiety and depression.
At Elon, free counseling services are available for students who need psychological and emotional support as well as students who simply need a safe space to talk in a supportive environment. While the university makes it a point to offer this kind of support for students, the next step following the recent tragedy should be to strengthen measures that assist students suffering from depression, stress and suicidal thoughts in the future by looking at Elon’s counseling services more critically.
The mission of Elon’s Counseling Services is “providing brief counseling services that help students achieve their academic and personal goals… and responding to the psychological effects of crisis impacting individual students and the campus community.” Students may take advantage of three visits to one of four full-time counselors or a licensed, unaffiliated, part-time psychiatrist on Elon’s campus. If students need further assistance, Elon counselors will then help students find a full-time counselor off campus. Although other universities such as Wake Forest University offer students access to more visits — up to 12 per academic year — before referring them to outside help, the standard for universities is to refer students out after a certain point for more specialized counseling sessions.
Elon should expand the counseling services offered to students on campus by employing a full-time psychiatrist with the ability to diagnose, console and prescribe medications for students who need a greater degree of support than the standard three visits with an Elon counselor. Though Elon has the ability to refer students to a professional off-campus, and though a licensed psychiatrist visits once a week, providing additional resources to students on campus can only benefit the student body. Employing a full-time psychologist, and possibly subsidizing the visits to the psychologist for students requiring longer-term assistance, would eliminate many minor barriers such as a lack of a car on campus or a lack of resources to pay for off-campus treatment.
The expansion of counseling services, along with increased campus-wide dialogue, would also make seeking help easier and less awkward for students who need it. If more students go, and if more students are aware of what's available, seeking help becomes less stigmatized and more normal. Because of the nature of mental health conditions, a majority of affected students nationwide never seek help from their peers or through the counseling services offered by their universities.
Many students on college campuses are living with the stress of difficult courses and disrupted eating and sleeping schedules and away from their familiar support systems. Since 1985, according to the American College Health Association (ACHA), the percentage of students considering their emotional health “above average” has fallen from 64 percent to 52 percent, reflecting the growing expectations placed on college students as they battle depression, stress or anxiety.
Depression remains a personal and emotional issue affecting a large number of students on college campuses. Each year, the ACHA says, more than 1,100 college students commit suicide on campuses across the nation — a number that has been steadily growing each year over the past few decades. One in 12 students on campuses nationwide have made a suicide plan, and three out of every 200 students has attempted suicide. Stress and depression can drive suicidal thoughts among 15-24-year-olds in the United States.
Elon consistently promotes positive mental health on campus and reliably offers support for students in times of major campus or world crises. The university can further show its support for the student body by continuing to improve, expand and promote counseling services on campus. Expanded services would create a comfortable environment in which anyone can receive easy and inexpensive help.