Editor’s Note: if you or someone you know is dealing with depression or anxiety, you can reach out to Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) offered by CU Boulder. They can be reached by phone at 303-492-2277.
September was Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, a difficult time for many as community members still struggle with the lingering impacts of the global pandemic. Even at the end of this month, here’s the info you need to know about the consequences of the pandemic on student mental health and how you can find important resources if need be.
CU Boulder has expanded its outreach and funding for its support services to combat potential increases in mental health crises.
The university to expand mental health support during and following the pandemic has included committing 1.8 million dollars to student mental health services for additional clinic services, including hiring 13 more counselors over a period of four years.
Steve Hurlbert, the director of communications and chief spokesperson of CU Boulder, said students should make use of Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) programming, like drop-in visits, mental health workshops and online therapy sessions offered to CU Boulder students. University students get half a dozen sessions included in their tuition.
Hurlbert also said he was encouraged by the launch of the Bandana Project on campus. The project, spearheaded by Student Support and Case Management, recruits college community members to spread awareness of both local and national resources and reduce the stigma around requesting mental health support. Hulbert said the program was a pilot for promoting everyday conversations and providing links to suicide prevention training.
“The Bandana Project is a mental health awareness and suicide prevention campaign that uses backpacks and bandanas to support peers in getting help,” he said in a written statement provided to the CU Independent. “[It] works against stigma and reinforces solidarity in mental health awareness.”
For National Suicide Awareness Month, in particular, he said the university offered suicide awareness and support information sessions.
During the pandemic, experts saw an uptick in the need for mental health services and crisis support. Colorado Crisis Services saw an 18% increase in call volume just from March to October 2020.
A study by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health also found that the intensity of mental distress experienced by college students increased following the spread of COVID-19.
The issue of young people’s, and especially college students, mental health has been a long-standing problem, particularly in Colorado which has the 7th highest suicide death rate in the US.
Pressures outside of pandemic-induced isolation and stress that already impact college students, like financial concerns, lack of sleep, intense academic schedules and the transition to living apart from family for the first time.
A recent study cited by the Mayo Clinic found that a third of college students experience significant anxiety and depression. According to the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, almost 90% of counseling center directors saw a rise in the number of students seeking out support services in 2019. Suicides per year in Colorado have been steadily increasing since around 2006 when 724 people were recorded to have died by suicide.
The suicide rate nearly doubled in 2021, rising to 1,370 per year.
While lots of state and national mental health data is available, CU Boulder still does not track statistics on student suicides. Suicide is the second most prevalent cause of death among college students. CU Boulder isn’t alone in this regard as many public universities do not provide or track statistics on student suicides.
“Suicide is a legally determined cause of death. Only a coroner or medical examiner can determine a cause of death,” said Andrew Sorensen, CU Boulder’s assistant director of communications, in a statement. “CU Boulder frequently does not have any information on cause of death, whether a death occurred on or off campus.”
Sorensen also discussed the university’s steps in the event of a student suicide.
“During a tragedy such as a student death, notifications [to the CU Boulder community] are determined on a case-by-case basis with the priority given to the family’s wishes,” he said.
If a student’s death impacts a certain community, such as a residence hall, Sorensen said the university wouldwork with the impacted group to connect them with support resources.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ann Marie Vanderveen at firstname.lastname@example.org.