The spectrum of responses to suicide at Arizona universities

High suicide rates in universities across the nation have left experts and professionals working on prevention tactics. Events such as World Suicide Prevention Day in Flagstaff last week is one of the efforts that brings attention to the tragedy of suicide.

Melanie Fleck, the project coordinator for the Arizona Department of Health Services at the University of Arizona, said in an email that the Arizona Institutes of Higher Education Network collects statewide data from colleges and universities in Arizona around a variety of health behaviors, specifically around alcohol, other drugs and violence.

“Unfortunately, questions directly related to suicide are not asked, and therefore we do not have any data reflecting statewide statistics from college students on that topic,” said Fleck.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the number-two killer for people ages 15 to 24.

According to the Clery Report, students have some of the lowest rates of suicide within this age group, they are susceptible to anxiety and depression due to social and mental stress.

Schools across Arizona have different ways of providing support to students which are generally centered around meetings with counselors, group therapy and emergency hotlines.

At NAU, the emergency hotlines are linked directly to the NAU Police Department (NAUPD). Students have the option to schedule appointments with Counseling Services.

Senior advertising major Ryan Greer dealt with this first-hand when a friend committed suicide last year.

“It wasn’t something you could assess, I didn’t see any signs, I didn’t see any red flags. Confusion kind of overpowered my grief to a degree,” said Greer.

Bobbi T. Ortega, records coordinator for the NAUPD, said that over the last five years, NAU had two students commit suicide. One death occurred in March 2015 and the other in January 2016. Both victims were 20-year-old males, one identified as white and the other as black.

According to NAUPD, approximately 10 reported suicide attempts were made by students at NAU in the school year of 2014-15. Before that, the next largest number of students to attempt were in the school year of 2011-12.

“I went to see him the night of, but there were cops surrounding his [apartment] complex and he wasn’t expecting me,” Greer said. “I thought nothing of it and walked home.”

Responses to suicide attempts on NAU campus vary, but each time the student is put before the director of Student Support Services and is subject to disciplinary action.

NAU’s protocol is far different from other universities in the state. Arizona State University’s policy only requires hospitalization and contact with the victim’s family. ASU also provides open statistics on their website for mental health rather than requiring official requests for documents.

According to ASU’s main page, 9.1 percent of ASU students reported seriously considering attempting suicide in the past 12 months, 35.4 percent reported feeling so depressed it was difficult to function one or more times in the past 12 months and 1.5 percent reported attempting suicide. Also ASU’s website contains information on anxiety, depression and resources for either reporting a friend or receiving help yourself.

U of A has a similar program for helping students dealing with suicidal thoughts or tendencies. The emergency contact information is made clear and easily attainable with availability to contact counselors. What is not provided is the information on suicide or suicidal attempts, support groups or initiatives for students to reach out in a community.

“It has always been [U of A] policy to not compare student data between race, ethnicity, gender to the other universities in Arizona for news outlets,” Fleck said in an email.

The response, as dictated by the UA’s Code of Conduct for self-harm, is comprised of a variety of punishments. The least of which is a notation on the transcript and the highest is expulsion. The level of threat determines the punishment.

The lack of communication between universities could be assisting in the lack of statistical data being collected and compared as a whole.

At NAU, the people at Counseling Services work during the week using appointments to help students with a variety of high-stress situations. These situations include drug abuse, sexual assault, understanding sexuality and much more. Information on how to reach Counseling Services can be found on NAU’s webiste at

In addition to Counseling Services, there is a suicide hotline in Flagstaff run by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which can be reached at 877-756-4090.

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