By the numbers

Total number of confirmed CU student suicides, by academic year:

2009-10: 2

2008-09: 4

2007-08: 3

2006-07: 5

Source: CU-Boulder

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With increased college suicides raising alarms at Cornell and Colorado State universities, officials at the University of Colorado report the Boulder campus could end the current academic year at a four-year low in student suicides.

There have been just two confirmed student suicides during CU’s current school year, with the cause of two more deaths still undetermined, according to campus officials. Thirteen currently enrolled CU students have died — most accidentally, and not all in Boulder — over the course of this academic year.

“From a suicide prevention standpoint we’ve been very successful,” said Deb Coffin, CU’s dean of students.

CU, which averages four to five suicides each year, saw four students take their own lives in the 2008-2009 academic year, officials said. There were three suicides in 2007-2008 and five in 2006-2007.

“The research says that 50 percent of college students feel depressed enough that it impairs their function,” said Amy Robertson, CU’s suicide prevention coordinator. “We’re continually looking at what we could be doing more.”

College suicides made national news this spring following three suspected suicides in rapid succession at Cornell. Because all three involved students jumping off the scenic bridges that dot the campus, Cornell officials erected temporary barricades blocking access to six campus bridges.

Closer to home, Colorado State — which typically reports one to three suicides annually — has seen nine students take their lives during the current academic year, according to Amy Hudgens, CSU’s dean of students.

In response, Hudgens said, CSU has enacted an aggressive suicide prevention campaign, which includes hiring a suicide-prevention coordinator and instituting new student screening and suicide tracking programs.

Dr. Joe Courtney, manager of Psychological Health and Psychiatry at CU’s Wardenburg Health Center, said the national media coverage of student suicides is “a positive thing in the sense that it will bring to the attention of administration the ever increasing acuity of mental health problems on campus an our need to adapt to it.”

Yet while research indicates that talking openly about suicide lessens risks, some psychiatrists have warned that large vigils and increased media attention may accentuate suicidal thoughts in some individuals.

“We try to talk to the media so they present things so they don’t aggrandize suicide,” said Karen Raforth, CU’s director of Counseling and Psychological Services. “There is a contagion effect.”

At CU, campus officials received a grant three years ago to focus on a public health approach to suicide prevention, according to Robertson, with a focus on community education and an open dialogue about suicide.

“In the past three-and-a-half years, I’ve personally educated 650 staff, faculty and students about suicide,” Robertson said.

Staffers from CU’s Counseling and Psychological Services, Psychological Health and Psychiatry and the Office of Victim Assistance meet regularly in what is called a “continuum of care” committee to examine possible improvements to their services.

“We have a new after-hours emergency phone line such that students can call our clinics when we’re not here and be connected to a professional therapist who is trained to provide crisis intervention over the phone,” Courtney said of one of the recent steps taken by the committee.

Still, Raforth said one of the best suicide prevention steps CU can take as a whole is to embrace the bonds of community support.

“We can’t see all the people on campus, so we rely on them to help each other and refer to us if it’s beyond them,” Raforth said.

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