Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Kansas youth, K-State takes steps to help students

The sun sets on Anderson Lawn on Sept. 12, 2016. (Archive photo by Nick Horvath | Collegian Media Group)

Suicide was the eighth leading cause of death in Kansas in 2017, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

For youth aged 15 to 24, it was the second, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported.

According to Kansas Suicide Prevention, the state recorded 544 deaths by suicide in 2017, a 6.3 percent increase from 2016.

There is no historical data set that exclusively tracks suicide rates among Kansas State students, but assistant dean of the Office of Student Life Andy Thompson said the department keeps a record of student mental health on a case-by-case basis.

“We do collect all the central points of data for every student that comes in to see us for whatever reason,” Thompson said. “It connects with KSIS, so we know their major and all other data, and we do become aware of trends in mental health, suicide ideations and attempts.”

K-State recently began using an information system that tracks this data and — moving forward — it will eventually have access to cause of death statistics, said Michelle Geering, public information officer for the Division of Communication and Marketing.

Usha Reddi, National Alliance on Mental Illness board member and Manhattan city commissioner, said while she believes destigmatization of mental illness in recent years is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to decrease the number of Kansans affected by suicide.

“People in my generation might be getting on board a little slow since they haven’t navigated mental illness as much as they need to,” Reddi said. “We’re the generation to just say, ‘Suck it up and move on,’ but I think we’re getting there slowly.”

Reddi said factors like lack of health insurance and support systems contribute to worsening mental health in the U.S., and as a result, suicide deaths.

Reddi called rising suicide rates “something to study and look harder at,” especially in young people.

“We need to work hard to save [students’] lives,” she said.

Thomas Lane, vice president of student life and dean of students, said his department is committed to reducing suicide risk for students.

To accomplish this, K-State partnered with the JED Foundation, a non-profit organization that aims to protect emotional health and prevent suicide in U.S. teens and young adults.

“To help create a healthier and safer university, we’ve partnered with the JED Foundation, which operates the JED Campus initiative to assess current university programs and look for ways to enhance a school’s mental health and suicide prevention systems, programs and policies,” Lane said.

An instructor in the Staley School of Leadership Studies, Reddi said she has heard from students who say they have reached out to K-State Counseling Services, but counselors are too backed up to see them for a while.

Reddi said having resources readily available for students dealing with mental illness is just as important as recognizing it.

Kodee Walls, Counseling Services licensed psychologist, opened K-State’s “Difficult Dialogues” series earlier in the semester with a presentation titled, “Mental Health in the Classroom: An Important Dialogue.”

The discussion series provides K-State faculty with training on how to handle difficult situations — and mental illness, Walls said in her presentation, is one of those situations.

“[Counseling Services] are the competent care providers, but we also need to, as a whole unit and university, know things we can do to intervene for students,” Walls said in October.

While the number of suicides in young people rose in recent years, these deaths are preventable.

The organization Suicide Awareness Voice of Education provides warning signs of depression and suicidality to identify mental health concerns in yourself and your peers.

On-campus resources for students with mental health concerns include K-State Counseling Services and the Office of Student Life. Psychology Today also provides a list of counselors and therapists in the Manhattan area for people of various needs.