Why do suicidal students avoid seeking help? college students’ self-reported reasons for concealing suicide ideation and their relationship to attempting suicide




Burton Denmark, Adryon Lindy

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As the second leading cause of death among college students, suicide has become an increasingly prominent focus for campus mental health initiatives. Suicide prevention efforts frequently rely on the induction of students with suicidal ideation into counseling services, either through self-referral or referrals from friends, family members, and university staff. However, nearly half of students who seriously contemplate taking their lives do not tell anyone that they are struggling with suicidal thoughts. Concealment of suicidal ideation, particularly from one‟s informal support network, is not well understood, and no studies to date have examined this phenomenon among college students. Using archival data from a national survey of suicidal crises among college students collected in 2006 by The National Research Consortium of Counseling Centers in Higher Education, this study explored college students‟ self-reported reasons for concealing their suicidal ideation.

Content analysis was used to categorize students‟ qualitative responses to an open-ended question asking why they chose not to tell anyone about their suicidal thoughts. Nine primary themes emerged from this inquiry: (1) perceived lack of need for help, (2) concern for the well being of others, (3) dispositional orientation towards privacy, (4) perceived pointlessness of seeking help, (5) anticipated negative reactions from others, (6) internal negative evaluation of suicidality, (7) fear of repercussions, (8) avoidance of interference from others, and (9) perception of having no one to tell. Multilevel modeling was then used to explore associations between demographic characteristics, reasons for concealment endorsed, and likelihood of attempting suicide within the 12-month period under study. Findings from this study contribute to an understanding of help avoidance among suicidal individuals and have implications for campus suicide prevention programming.



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