The rising epidemic of college student suicide – What recourse do families have?

College is a major transition for young adults and is oftentimes the first experience they have out of their family’s household. This can be overwhelming, and for many, they may deal with new and different mental health struggles that they do not necessarily know how to cope with. Students may feel isolated from friends and family, pressured with their newfound freedom, and stress from the academic demands of their school. Some may be presented with alcohol or drugs for the first time, which may trigger an unknown predisposition to depression or suicidal thoughts.

Suicide among college students has been rapidly rising and is currently the second leading cause of death of adults ages 15-24. Studies indicate that 1 in 5 college students have had thoughts of suicide, with 9% reporting suicide attempts. In response, colleges have tried to counter this uptick by widening mental health services on campus and availability or suicide awareness programs.

Risk factors include

  • Major depression or personality disorders
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Traumatic or stressful life events
  • Prior suicide attempts
  • Isolation and lack of support
  • Impulsiveness
  • Lack of coping skills
  • Access to a suicide method

Warning signs include

  • Mood swings
  • Decreased hygiene
  • Talking about suicide
  • Statements of hopelessness
  • Interest in death
  • Sudden happy or calm state
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Poor academic performance
  • Saying goodbyes
  • Giving away possessions
  • Substance abuse
  • Self-harm
  • Risky behavior or recklessness

What You Can Do

Friends and family that notice these warning signs can do a lot of things to help. Simply being there for the person can make a difference, but it is important to remember that your support is not a substitution for professional help. Medications and therapy have proven invaluable in treating symptoms that contribute to suicide. The national suicide prevention hotline is available 24/7. You can access it by calling 1(800)273-8255.

Contact Us

Generally, schools have a duty to make maintain a safe environment for their students. While this clearly applies to physical safety such as fixing poorly designed building and walkways, there has been a recent surge to extend this to the emotional well being of students. There may be legal recourse if a loved one has committed suicide while at college. Historically, courts have not held colleges responsible for the suicides of students at their institution, however the prominence of this issue has caused the courts to reevaluate. Recent cases question whether a university has a special relationship to their students, and therefore calls for a level of beyond that of an ordinary person or entity. If the university had reason to know of the student’s suicidal thoughts, they may be liable for failing to reach out to the student to help. Furthermore, tort law recognizes “voluntary undertaking” liability. This means that even when a university has no duty to step in in the first place, if it does, it then has a duty to make a reasonable effort and certainly to not make the situation worse.

Overall courts across the country have recognized that schools may be held responsible if they:

  • Have created a special danger of suicide
  • Have not acted reasonably to warn parents of a known risk of suicide; or
  • Acted recklessly in carrying out their responsibilities to the student

The fact is, many cases of this sort are dismissed, and the chances of this multiply without proper legal representation. If you believe a university was negligent in when treating or failing to treat a student, we can help. Compensation can never replace a loved one or take away your pain of losing them, but perhaps it can take away the pressure of expenses that result.

Contact our student suicide attorneys at Altman & Altman LLP. Our expert team has the knowledge and experience to help you evaluate your best course of action. We provide all clients with a free and confidential consultation to fully discuss their case, and explain what remedies may be available. Contact us today.

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