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Recent events bring suicide awareness to minds of UNH students

By Allison Bellucci, Contributing Writer

Last month, the University of New Hampshire was shocked by the news of former student Brandi MacDonald taking her own life via the Downeaster train near campus. News spread quickly and the community was saddened, feeling for the family and friends of the life lost. Although shocking news, suicide is a traumatic incident that UNH deals with every year.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 20-24 year olds, and 1 in 12 U.S. college students create a suicide plan, according to the “Safeguarding your students against suicide” packet utilized by the university. With this number being shockingly high, many students may wonder what UNH is doing to prevent these acts.

Denise Nelson, UNH’s adjunct assistant dean of students, helps faculty, staff and other students who are concerned about the well-being of another student. She provides them with the help they need at the counseling center. She then maintains contact with the student beyond their time with the counseling center in order to make sure everything is okay.

“I can tell you that suicide is common on college campuses, or at least a common issue on college campuses,” she said. “UNH is not exempt from that and isn’t unique in that it doesn’t occur here. Our goal is to intervene as quickly as we can and hopefully prevent suicide. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Ken Norton, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI NH), discussed the concerns that often follow a suicide on a college campus.

“Well, for youth and young adults, the issue of suicide contagion is a concern where when we know someone has committed suicide, we have an increased risk for suicide ourselves,” he said. “So in tight-knit communities, such as a college campus, there is a high risk when a student dies by suicide. So that certainly is a cause for concern.”

Suicide is complex. There are almost always multiple causes, including psychiatric illnesses that may not have been recognized or treated.

However, according to the Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide website, these illnesses are treatable. Knowing the warning signs is one of the most important aspects of preventing suicide.

The official suicide warning signs include talking about the following: wanting to die, looking for a way to kill oneself, feeling hopeless or having no purpose, feeling trapped or in unbearable pain and being a burden to others.

More signs include the following: increased use of alcohol or drugs, acting anxious, agitated or reckless, sleeping too little or too much, withdrawing or feeling isolated, showing rage or talking about seeking revenge and displaying extreme mood swings.

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide, do not leave the person alone. Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.  Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional. 

One of the most important prevention essentials that every student at UNH can help with is broad-based, campus-wide, public education, according to the “Safeguarding your students against suicide” packet.

By being informed of the signs and willing to take action, suicide prevention across campus will be stronger.

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