Undergraduate college students have a lot to balance: Academic work, social engagements, internships and preparing for careers after graduation.
The pressures of balancing everything can lead to poor mental and emotional states, with research demonstrating that one in five undergraduates report suicidal thoughts and mental health problems as a result of college stress.
Associate Professor Laura Shannonhouse conducted a study with the University of North Georgia’s Michele Hill and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s Jennifer Hightower about the links among undergraduate students’ individual experiences with trauma, their lifetime suicide risk and their reporting of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Their research findings, published in the Journal of American College Health, show that serious suicidal thoughts, plans and behaviors are widespread among college students, particularly for those students who experience traumas that occur during the college experience, such as rape.
The good news? Undergraduate students are likely to reach out for help when experiencing suicidality – even more so as those thoughts and behaviors become more lethal. These students are also very receptive to evidence-based suicide interventions and the people in their lives who want to help.
“A listening ear and a warm heart can go a long way in fostering connection and belonging, and are life promoting,” Shannonhouse said. “If faculty could take one thing from this study, it would be that they are already life promoters in their students’ lives, and that the significant care and concern they provide is worth its weight in gold.”
Though this research study was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic and the overt racism and violence waged against Black Americans in 2020, its findings can certainly be applied to the current climate.
“The pandemic is a threat to our life and the lives of others, and watching footage of the murders is traumatizing,” Shannonhouse explained. “Our students are either vicariously witnessing trauma, through media for instance, or directly experiencing trauma by becoming ill, isolated and/or experiencing the suffering of loved ones. We all will have to grieve in different ways that our lives cannot go back to the way it was before COVID-19.”
To read the full study, click here.
About the Researcher
Department of Counseling and Psychological Services
Laura Shannonhouse is a National Certified Counselor (NCC), Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Trainer (ASIST) and a Suicide to Hope (s2H) Facilitator. Her clinical experiences have included working with disaster-impacted populations both domestically and internationally, and her research interests focus on crisis intervention and disaster response. She also conducts research on suicide prevention, older adults and equipping faith-based communities to help. Recently, Shannonhouse received grant funding from the Administration for Community Living to study 700 community-dwelling older adults who have been increasingly isolated as a result of COVID-19.
Shannonhouse, Laura, Hill, Michele and Hightower, Jennifer (2020). “Trauma exposure, suicidality, and reporting in college students.” Journal of American College Health, DOI: 10.1080/07448481.2020.1752695.