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Articles / Campus Life / When College Students Need Counseling Help

Aug. 28, 2014

When College Students Need Counseling Help

This past week, I saw a news story about a freshman at Penn State University who, on the first day of classes, climbed a tall construction crane and fell to his death. It was ruled a suicide.

No one may ever know why this bright and likeable young man chose to end his life. These types of stories are all too common on today's college campuses. The difficult part about detecting depression and other psychological issues among college students is exacerbated by the students' separation from their families' most times sensitive and overseeing eyes.

Young people, especially sensitive teens, can be affected by any number of negative stimuli in college. Perhaps two of the main agents of depressive effects might be alcohol and drugs. The issue of college drinking is in the forefront of today's collegiate headlines. Drugs, while not as high profile as alcohol, can be easily obtained on campus. The recent legalization of marijuana in some states has certainly increased its use by college students.

So, what should a college student do if s/he finds him/herself experiencing the effects of anything from a chronic case of “the blues" all the way to full-blown depression? The answer to this is something that every collegian and his/her parents should know. That answer is college counseling services, which are there for the express purpose of preventing tragedies like the one mentioned above.

Almost all colleges have counseling services that are available to all students and covered in the price of tuition and fees. Students should take advantage of this opportunity even if they are not

feeling as if they are experiencing mental health problems. Counseling services often offer helpful advising for students who are concerned about substance abuse (current or potential), eating disorders, or adjustment to college academic or social life. Plus, there are often support groups for many other types of issues, such as sexual abuse, bereavement, and LGBT concerns.

What do college counseling services offer? Let's take a look at some sample programs.

The University of Arizona's CAPS (Counseling And Psych Services) program could serve as an example for other schools in its comprehensive range of support. To give you an idea about CAPS, here are a few excerpts from the booklet describing what the program offers:


CAPS Group Services

Group participation provides a safe opportunity for connection with others who are addressingsimilar concerns. Group members benefit from learning from each other through observation, imitation, and modeling. Group process is utilized as a mechanism of change by developing, exploring, and examining interpersonal relationships within the group. Individuals share ideas that have worked for them, introducing approaches that you may not have tried. You can ask questions and share your concerns and ideas.

Benefits of group:

– Connect to others facing similar issues.
– See how others handle similar problems.
– Learn and practice new skills in a safe environment.
– Get multiple perspectives.
– Share your unique perspective.
– Improve self-awareness.
– Improve social skills.
– Enhance acceptance of yourself and others.
– Improve self-esteem.
– Research supports group effectiveness.

What to expect:

– Each group is led by a CAPS counselor.
– Groups vary in size.
– Groups respect confidentiality.
– Group sessions typically last about 90 minutes.
– Most groups meet weekly during a specified time period.
– Most groups cost $5 per group visit, but some have no cost. Check the each group's specific page or contact CAPS for more information.
– Groups meet in the Campus Health Service building unless otherwise specified.

Since I started this article with the sad story of a Penn State student's suicide, it's probably fitting to take a look at the warning signs of impending suicide. There's an excellent article from the Philadelphia Inquirer that talks about Addressing suicide among seemingly successful college students.

After some moving stories about student suicide, an amazing fact emerges:

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college students.

As if this weren't surprising enough, another startling fact might shock us:

Colleges aren't required to report suicides, so the problem is hard to track.

Penn [University of Pennsylvania] officials said they don't know how many students died of suicide over the last five years.

“The university doesn't keep records like that," said spokesman Ron Ozio.

There have been at least four suicides of Penn students in the last year, most recently the death of sophomore Elvis Hatcher, who hanged himself at a fraternity last week – less than a month after Holleran's death.

About 7 percent of students nationally report having experienced suicidal thoughts in the last 12 months, statistics show. About 1 percent attempt suicide. For Penn, a school of 24,000 undergraduates and graduates, that would translate to 240 students.

Finally, what are the warning signs of suicide and what should you do if you see someone exhibiting any of them?

– Talking about wanting to die.

– Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.

– Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.

– Talking about being a burden to others.

– Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.

– Acting anxious or agitated.

– Sleeping too little or too much.

– Withdrawing or isolating.

– Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.

– Displaying extreme mood swings.

What to do if someone exhibits warning signs

– Do not leave the person alone.

– Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs, or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.

– Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

– Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.


If you're a college student experiencing symptoms of depression, or even suicide (or if you know of someone going through this), by all means, take advantage of the help that is available for you on campus. Help is available and please know that, as that University of Arizona booklet's title proclaims, You Are Not Alone.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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