Suicide is one of the leading causes of college students’ deaths. Here’s how K-State fights back

P.A.W.S is a student organization associated with Counseling Services. The organization's purpose is to enhance the mental wellness of the K-State campus at large and support the vision and mission of Counseling Services.

Imagine sitting in a lecture hall at Kansas State with a couple of hundred students. Statistics from the American College Health Association suggest that 12 out of every 100 students crammed into that lecture hall have formulated “a suicide plan.” In that room, a couple dozen people have thought of suicide.

The ACHA also reports suicide is the second-highest form of death in college students behind traffic accidents, and about six percent of all college students “have seriously considered attempting suicide.” At Kansas State, that number would translate to more than 1,000 students from the Manhattan campus alone.

Peer Advocates for Mental Wellness and Success, better known as P.A.W.S., hosts Kat Chats along with other events on campus to help reduce the stigma of mental health topics. Alex Bontrager, president of P.A.W.S. and senior in microbiology, said the organization’s goal is to be a student advocacy group aiming to help mental wellbeing of the student population.

“A lot of college students are impacted by mental wellness struggles in one way or another,” Bontrager said. “Either they themselves or they have friends that are, but not a ton of people are very comfortable talking about their mental wellness, so our overarching goal is to educate people about mental health, provide resources, but also to just open up a healthy dialogue surrounding mental wellness.”

P.A.W.S. not only sponsors mental health Kat Chats, but also works with Counseling Services to help guide students in need. Counseling Services staff members review the material in the Kat Chats that P.A.W.S creates in order to ensure the information is accurate.

“We want to help students realize that seeking help and resources when you are struggling or know of someone who is in need is normal,” Bontrager said.

Talking about the prevention of suicide was the main focus of a recent Kat Chat, however when discussing the topic it’s also in good favor to address depression, Matthew Burnett, senior in nutritional sciences, said.

“Depression is increasingly common among college students,” Burnett said. “Unlike what many people think, depression is not a sign of weakness. Suicide is more of a compulsive act and [usually passes] within 24 hours of the initial thought. Often they just want the pain to end.”

Kodee Walls, Counseling Services psychologist, has researched the topic of suicide among college students. She said in her findings sources of stress that can lead to suicidal thoughts can be finances, homework, living on one’s own, isolation, drug or alcohol usage and balancing personal life, school, work and other responsibilities.

“Regarding trends, there has been a steady increase in college students reporting thoughts of suicide or previous suicide attempts,” Walls said. “There are many hypotheses regarding this uptick, some examples include the reduced stigma around mental health needs so more people are seeking help and disclosing their [thoughts of suicide] or decreased connection with others due to social media and the portrayal of the perfect life, which leave people feeling alienated and alone, etc.”

Peers can help friends who are experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts by talking to the individual in private, communicating your concern, ask how they are feeling, and most importantly be supportive, calm and show a caring attitude, Walls said.

P.A.W.S. also helps students in the areas of embracing change, self-esteem and self-confidence. The group has a variety of events planned for the rest of the fall semester and is currently working on a podcast to help create more dialogue and awareness for mental health topics.

Join P.A.W.S. on Oct. 8 at 11 a.m. in Bosco Plaza for its “drawing out your emotions” event to relieve stress and calm emotions.