Volume 94, Issue 28

Thursday, October 19, 2000


High risk for depression Academics and lifestyle make students targets

Fighting the rise in suiicde statistics

Fighting the rise in suiicde statistics

By John Michael
Gazette Staff

Everyday, millions of young people go about their lives, deftly averting crises, as they confront the pressures of school, finances and anything else life throws at them, knowing some day it will all be worthwhile. Sadly, for some, this routine can become overwhelming and they fail to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

Suicide among university, college and high school students has risen 200 per cent in the last decade. In 1995, 643 people between the ages of 15 and 24 killed themselves, making suicide the second largest cause of death in that age group, said Michael Quinn, program director of the Depression and Anxiety Information Centre in Hamilton.

Psychological factors such as depression play a major role in suicide, said Raj Velamoor, professor of psychiatry and family medicine at Western. Forty-five to 70 per cent of people who commit suicide may suffer from depression.

Among students, Velamoor said, "Substance abuse may complicate depression and increase the risk of suicide. Academic pressure can also compound the problem." In addition, the termination of a valued interpersonal relationship combined with alcohol abuse, may increase suicidal tendencies.

"We just haven't placed enough emphasis on how serious it is," said Jennifer Hill, a fourth-year honours kinesiology student. She said she agreed pressure to succeed in school and at a career, are possible factors for students contemplating suicide.

Many people who harm themselves have no intention of actually taking their own lives, Velamoor said. "A substantial number of deliberately self-aggressive persons cut or burn themselves in a clearly non-lethal manner with no intention of killing themselves."

People behave this way for a number of reasons, including deliberate manipulation and unconscious rage at significant others, particularly in individuals who have suffered physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in the past, Velamoor said.

Though it may be easy to speculate as to why people vary in their approaches to suicide, pinpointing exactly why someone would chose to take their own life is more difficult.

John Morgan, co-ordinator of King's College Centre for Education about Death and Bereavement, said most people see suicide as a problem, but for the person who is thinking about it, suicide is a solution.

For these individuals, suicide is an attempt to escape psychological pain. They suffer from tunnel vision and see suicide as their only option. Suicide occurs when pressure, pain and anxiety increase, Morgan explained.

When someone takes their own life, the effects can be devastating for those left behind. People often blame themselves, said Verinder Sharma, a psychiatrist with the mood disorders program at the London Psychiatric Hospital.

Typical reactions include guilt, sadness, shock and denial, he said, explaining when individuals with a history of suicide attempts finally take their lives, various emotions can be invoked in the people who knew them. "Very, very rarely [family members] are relieved, though they would never admit it," he said.

Suicide risk factors include a history of suicide attempts, mental illness (both diagnosed and undiagnosed), loss or bereavement (especially due to suicide), alcohol or drug abuse (including that of family members) and the experience of abuse or violence, said Nada Barraclough, board member of the London-based Ontario Suicide Prevention Network.

First-year social science student, Chris Dinney, said he also saw more stress as an issue for students, including financial difficulties. "Everything's more expensive. Education is costing more," he said

People who exhibit signs of depression for more than two weeks should seek professional help, Quinn said. "But, if at any time you feel as if life isn't worth living, go seek help."

Quinn also emphasized the importance of speaking frankly with doctors when feeling depressed and possibly suicidal. Patients should be specific, as doctors may not be aware of what is happening, or might misdiagnose someone's illness. Less than 15 per cent of depression sufferers get optimal treatment, he said.

Barraclough stressed talking with someone about suicide will not put the idea into their head. "It's okay to talk about suicide. Talking to people about suicide doesn't necessarily mean that they will actually kill themselves," she said. "You're not going to give them the idea."

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