By Gail Marsh
This is the question many college students are asking themselves, and the question has absolutely nothing to do with Shakespeare 101! Suicide rates among college students are on the rise, and parents, health professionals, college administrators, and staff desperately want to reverse this alarming trend. The pandemic this year only complicates things further, bringing uncertainty and isolation. Churches, too, need to be aware of the crisis of collegiate suicides and pursue ways they can join the battle against this growing phenomenon.
Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for college students ages 20–24. There are more than 1,000 campus suicides per year, and that number is on the rise. Why is this happening? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services points out that the causes of suicide can be multiple and are complex in nature. They list mental illness, substance abuse, painful losses, exposure to violence, and social isolation as factors that can lead to suicide.
What can be done? Is there anything your congregation can do to safeguard your college-bound young people? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Students experiencing homesickness or loneliness will not always seek help or even admit to these feelings.
- Student stress rises dramatically at midterm and end-of-term, when tests are administered and major projects are due.
- Many students do not carry health insurance, or if they do, many policies do not provide adequate coverage for mental health issues.
- Campuses are often understaffed and unable to meet the students’ need for counseling.
Where can you begin? At the beginning—the beginning of high school, that is! Involve students and their parents in discussions about scholastic expectations, potential college stressors, eating disorders, alcohol abuse, and substance abuse. Work to develop open lines of communication between students and parents, as well as between students and other Christian adult mentors.
Once teens enter college, continue to offer support—even if they’re learning from home:
- Regularly e-mail students to let them know you are praying for them—and really pray!
- Send care packages filled with snack bars, coins for laundry needs, phone calling cards, and notes with Scripture encouragements. Adapt for those at home.
- Include college attendees on your church’s prayer chain or prayer lists.
- Talk with parents of college students. You may pick up warning signs that a parent might miss.
- Mail birthday and other holiday cards. Be sure to write in Bible passages that reflect Christ’s constant presence and protection.
- Phone students to let them know you are thinking about them and praying for them. Midterm and end-of-term are especially important times for this!
- Encourage your church’s college students to stay connected to one another through e-mail—even if attending different universities. (No one better understands what a freshman is experiencing than another freshman!)
- Urge parents to notify the appropriate university personnel if they suspect substance or alcohol abuse. Do the same if you are concerned about an eating disorder.
- If you become aware of a student in crisis, urge the young person to contact the college counseling offices. Or, if the student is not able to do this on her own, locate phone numbers and counselor names yourself and share this information with the student.
- Be available—to receive phone calls, e-mails, or other communication from college students. Let them know that you want to hear from them and to pray for them. Listen. Encourage. Pray together.
Working together with families and young adults, your church can have a positive impact on college students.
Be strong and courageous. . . . The LORD . . . goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:7–8 ESV
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