Suicides at College Park

July 18, 1992

No suicide should be dismissed as an isolated incident. But we don't think that's what Julie Perlman, director of the American Association of Suicidology, meant when she referred to this year's spate of eight student suicides at the University of Maryland at College Park as a "blip on the statistics" that just sometimes happens.

There is a limit to how far one can go to explain a sudden rash of suicides on a college campus. Why they would occur in high numbers during a particular year, or at one college, invariably gets lost as the details of each case are picked apart. Young people kill themselves for a lot of reasons, most often because a problem of the moment seemed insurmountable and unlikely to go away.

Still, it would be folly not to look for links between the College Park suicides that may suggest steps university officials can take to address their current problem. Dr. Don Moss, director of the school's mental health services, is probably right when he cites the unusual stress faced by today's college students as they face graduation.

"I think we've seen more depressed students this year," Dr. Moss said. "I think the times are not propitious for students leaving the university [and] entering the job market."

Also, the College Park campus, with its 35,000 students, two-thirds of whom commute, can be a large and alienating place. Add to that the personal problems that crop up in a student's life and the ingredients for tragedy become clear.

But beyond an awareness of these situations and diligent outreach efforts that might stop a suicide before it is attempted, there is little officials at College Park can do to erase these sad statistics.

Each year, approximately 5,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 commit suicide. That rate represents a three-fold increase since the 1950s. In recent years, the stress faced by young people has mounted, complicated by drugs, family problems and mental illness. These are not factors isolated at College Park, or any university.

Perhaps the best lesson for troubled young people is a simple one that will serve them no matter where they go to school or what they do in later life: All problems are temporary.

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