(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – During the first week of classes, three student deaths have occurred at prominent east coast universities, two of which have been confirmed as suicides. These deaths have occurred after a string of student suicides over the past year, particularly on the campuses of New York University and the George Washington University.
Joann Mitchell Levy, a 23-year-old graduate student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts jumped to her death from the roof of a 12 story building last Tuesday. 19-year-old sophomore Susan Shin of GW jumped to her death from her eighth story apartment last Wednesday. And 19-year-old Princeton sophomore Melissa Huang was found dead in her dorm room the previous Sunday, although the cause of death in this case is yet to be determined.
While this is the first on-campus student death at Princeton since a graduate student committed suicide in January of 2003, NYU and GW are now addressing a growing trend. Levy was the sixth NYU student to take her own life in the past year, while Shin was the third at GW.
“The question is not why it’s happening, or is it happening more frequently, but why are campuses not working to better prevent it?” said Dr. Berman of the American Society of Suicidology.
Tracy Schario, director of Media Relations at the George Washington University, said the University Counseling Center has been working closely with students and faculty to prevent future suicide cases. After the two suicides last year, the Counseling Center put a series of ads in the student newspapers to educate about the warning signs of depression, and a listing of the center’s services and hours.
After a student death, the center works with residence halls and the Student Activities Center to identify the student groups the deceased was involved with, and specifically target students involved for counseling. They are also working to educate the faculty about the warning signs to identify students in distress, and Schario noted that there has been an increase in faculty referrals since this service began.
“One of the things GW has done after the series of student deaths last year is commissioned a study to look at this issue. The study will be released in late September, early October,” said Schario.
There will also be a table set up in GW’s student center on October 7, National Depression Screening day, to offer information and services to students.
NYU has also stepped up its suicide prevention, opening up a 24-hour hotline for students, and increasing the ads and information available in student newspapers and on the school’s television program.
Although the cause of death at Princeton has not yet been identified as suicide, university spokeswoman Patty Allen maintained that Princeton has a comprehensive psychiatry and counseling center on campus to deal with any mental health issues among students.
“There is also a crisis management team who is well trained to look for students in crises,” said Allen.
Dr. Berman said that suicide is actually less frequent among college students than among others in the same age group. However, the media and public pay more attention when an educated student at a prominent university takes his or her life.
“Suicide is happening for the same reasons today as it was 20 years ago, it’s just now coming more to our attention,” said Berman. He listed some of the age old reasons for suicide, which include; significant mental disorder, depression being the number one, high degree of stress and difficulty in coping with this stress, and interpersonal problems, such as the break-up of a relationship.
“These are issues that are common to all students, but why is it that one is more vulnerable?” said Berman. “There is usually identified to be a more severe mental disorder in students who cannot deal with these stresses, and those are the ones who chose to take their own life.”
There are many resources like the American Society of Suicidology which universities can utilize to get help and recommendations. Others include the National Suicide Prevention Center, and the Jed Foundation, a non profit organization in New York which works specifically to address college suicides.
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