“Often times we are not privy to that information,” Davis said. “But we make notations, we track the information to the best of our ability.”
Some are skeptical of how helpful tracking may be. Suicide rates among the schools that provided data in the AP study range from 0.27 to 8 deaths per 100,000 – a wide and likely inaccurate disparity.
“Reporting what we do know will often be inaccurate as we would miss some, especially in large institutions,” Danielle Oakley, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Duke University, told The Daily Tar Heel. “Some may think the resources (it takes to track student suicide data) are not necessary.”
But suicide prevention advocates argue it is important for universities to track these statistics in order to see if the preventive measures they’re taking are effective. Taking a closer look at data might reveal trends that give schools ideas of what areas of campus they need to address.
After Clemson University started tracking suicide data in 2015, staff noticed an increased suicide rate among transfer students. They’ve since made efforts to include transfer students in campus life. Some of the programs Clemson offers include living-learning communities on campus specifically for transfers, and a Transfer Council branch of the Undergraduate Student Government that gives transfer students more of a voice on campus issues and help make transitions easier for new transfers.
UNC-CH Counseling and Psychological Services does record the number of suicides by students who use its services, but that data only includes about 15 percent of all UNC-CH students.
Jessalyn Klein, the suicide prevention coordinator at CAPS at UNC-C, said it’s not only important to offer services on campus, but to create a campus-wide sense of responsibility.
“While we’re all trained in managing things like depression, anxiety and assessing for suicide risk, it is not our sole responsibility at the counseling and psychological services,” Klein said. “With a public health model, what we really do for our suicide prevention program is not only make sure that we have the services here to treat students when they end up coming through the door, but that the entire campus is ready to recognize warning signs for suicide or other mental health concerns, and that they’re prepared to respond.”
Many universities across the country continue to invest more money in mental health services and suicide prevention as reports suggest more students today are struggling with the rigors of college life. That’s led some to question why universities would spend so much money on programs without any way of measuring its effectiveness. Some argue universities that don’t track and report student suicide statistics may be trying to protect their own reputation.
Many of those who battle with their mental health on a regular basis feel like there’s still room for improvement in the services provided by universities.
“It’d mean a lot to me if I went to a school where they stepped up and admitted there are problems that we have, that students aren’t getting the help that they need,” UNC-CH sophomore Alexandra Smith said.
UNC-CH plans to set up a task force in the spring made up of faculty, staff and students that will analyze mental health on campus and make recommendations.