Guidelines for universities on dealing with suicidal students

    Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 18 and 24. For colleges and universities, dealing with students who are suicidal has been a tough issue. A new report from New Jersey’s department of the Public Advocate offers some guidelines.

    Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 18 and 24. For colleges and universities, dealing with students who are suicidal has been a tough issue. A new report from New Jersey’s department of the Public Advocate offers some guidelines.

    Listen:

    [audio:091206mssuicide.mp3]

    Do suicidal students a pose a threat to others, as well as themselves? Should they be asked to leave school? It’s a difficult decision for college administrators, especially after the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

    Officials in New Jersey’s department of the public health advocate surveyed how the state’s institutions of higher education approach this issue. They found that while most schools offer ongoing support to students in crisis, about one-third expel students after they attempt suicide. [Click here to read report , pdf link]

    Ann Portas is one of the authors of the report. She says that while the majority of schools offer help and guidance for students who appear suicidal, about one third has a removal policy:

    Portas: That could not only be a violation of the student’s civil rights, but it’s also clinically not appropriate. If the student is undergoing treatment, and the student’s treatment practitioners feel that the student is ready to return to school it doesn’t seem that it should be up to the college to say ‘you’re still not allowed to come back.

    Alison Malmon is executive director of “Active Minds” a campus mental health organization. She says punitive policies have a negative effect beyond the college where they are implemented:

    Malmon: Students hear about those, and they get concerned about seeking help, because low and behold if they seek help and indicate they may be feeling depressed or may have had suicidal thoughts they may get kicked off campus – and on many campuses that’s not the case but it can be a deterrent for students to seek help.

    Ann Portas says having a pro-active mental health policy pays off:

    Portas: Those schools that do a good job of ensuring that the approach to those students who are having problems is pro-active and non punitive are also the schools that don’t really have completed suicides.

    Portas says the report offers guidelines for colleges and universities, and includes a sample mental health policy.

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