Contrary to public perception, suicides at colleges may be down slightly.
That’s probably because Schwartz’s account of what’s going on is rather nuanced. While anecdotal accounts of ever-more-mentally-ill students abound, he said that “If you look at things that are a bit more carefully, rigorously tracked, like rates of suicide, actually, when rates of suicide were measured in the Big 10 study of colleges” — which looked at university suicides from 1980 to 1990 — “as compared to two surveys that were done in the 2000s that go up to 2009, the rate seems to have gone down slightly.” [link l=”http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/11/myth-of-the-fragile-college-student.html”]
Of course, there are some demographic trends that must be controlled for here. White men commit suicide at the highest rates, and the proportion of white men at college has shrunk in the past twenty-five years. On the other hand, the college population is also older, and risk for suicide increases throughout a person’s twenties, which should predict an overall increase in suicide rates among college students. Likewise, the presence of student veterans, who are also at elevated risk, might drive the numbers up.
There are some other risk factors of note (in particular, the risk for transgender students) but it is difficult to see how they might have shifted average suicide over time.
All in all, there’s probably legitimate questions about whether the rate is slightly up or down, but there is little support for a suicide epidemic in colleges. In fact, the trend outside of college-age students is far more dismal. See Suicide Belt, Rising Suicides]]
The Big Ten Student Suicide Study: A 10-Year Study of Suicides on Midwestern University Campuses. (1997) [http://clementicenter.rutgers.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Silverman-et-al_The-Big-10-Suicide-Study.pdf pdf]
The lower suicide rate on campus has been attributed to the lack of access to firearms on campus. See Guns and Suicide on Campus
Colleges sometimes are reluctant to report student deaths as suicides, for fear of Contagion Effects on Campus