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Suicide Prevention on Nevada College Campuses

We all know that being a college student can be very stressful. And when stress feels overwhelming many students become depressed.

Some turn to self-harming behaviors. Others become so despondent that they see suicide as the only option. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 35. 

And reports that the suicide rate among college-aged Americans has tripled since the 1950s.

“Most of our students who come into counseling services seeking support do come in for anxiety, depression and overall stress. Those are three areas of stress that students are coming in for,” said Joseph Walloch, a licensed psychologist and Assistant Director of Training at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Walloch said in the fall freshman students will struggle with trying to adjust to campus life and in the spring students come in for help with relationships that have soured.

Jamie Davidson is the Associate Vice President for Student Wellness, University of Nevada Las Vegas. He said UNLV students come into counseling for the same reasons: anxiety, depress, academic stress and relationships.

Davidson said across the nation college students face the same problems. There is one thing that has changed on college campuses and that is the number of students who seek help.

“Especially concerning to us is just the huge increases in anxiety and depression that students have been reporting over the last decade,” he said.

Davidson said mental health experts are not sure why the numbers are increasing. He believes there are many factors in play and he pointed out that while college is a positive thing it is also stressful and that is often underestimated.

For non-traditional students, the stress can be even worse. 

Joan Steinman is the Associate Director of Training at Truckee Meadows Community College. The college serves more students who are not typical college students.

She said often students are working, perhaps even multiple jobs and they often have families. 

“They’re trying to juggle all these different responsibilities,” she said.

Steinman said the students at her college seek counseling primarily for academic problems. She said some students didn't know what to expect when they started college and struggle. 

Since it is a commuter school building connectivity can be difficult.

“If they already have a strong support network, then that’s fantastic," Steinman said, "If they don’t have a strong support network, then it is more challenging to build that in a commuter school.”  

It is a strong support network and connectivity to other students that make the difference.

“Social connective is a protective factor to suicide and I think for many students, living in the residence hall serves as a source of connectivity for them,” Walloch said.

While living in the dorms may not be for everyone, reaching out and finding a community on campus is vital to making those important connections, he said.

“I can definitely see how a student who may not be as connected easily fall off the grid so to say.”

Walloch has partnered with the Dean of New Student Initiatives at UNR to implement a program that helps incoming students create a coping skills toolbox of sorts so that when difficult situations come along they have the skills to cope.

Davidson said while suicide is a concern at colleges across the country actually being in college is also a protective factor. The rate of suicide in young people attending college is lower than their peers who are not in college.

He said that college campuses are support systems and the students going to college are engaged in activities.

However, one caller who wanted to remain anonymous explained how her son struggled while attending UNR. She said at one point he dropped out but she didn't know. Later, she found out he hadn't left his room for three weeks.

Davidson believes that is a case where someone should have been alerted and the young man's mother should have been told. But when to call a parent for help can be tricky because many college students are adults. 

Plus, there are laws restricting when patient-doctor confidentially can be broken to notify someone. 

At UNLV, anyone can anonymously request help for a student through the Rebels Support Team.

Davidson said they received 271 notifications last term. The team, which he is apart of, reviews each notice, works to reach the person in question and find them the resources they may need.

Some of the signs to look for Davidson said, include:

  • Talking about harming themselves, about feeling hopeless, or feeling in pain. 
  • Increased drug or alcohol use, withdrawal from activities, sleeping too much or not sleeping enough, aggression
  • Depression and anxiety, which can manifest as irritability, lack of interest in activities. 

All of the panelists agreed that it is okay to talk openly with someone who might be struggling with anxiety or depression and provide them with resources that can help.


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Counseling Services– University of Nevada, Reno 

Counseling Center – Truckee Meadows Community College, Reno

Student Wellness Center – University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention

Nevada Coalition for Suicide Prevention

Mobile Crisis Response Team - Hotline: South: 702-486-7865 or North: 775-688-1670

Crisis Call Center - Text Line - Text - "Listen" to 839863

De Prevencion del Suicido - 1-888-628-9454

Jamie Davidson, Associate Vice President for Student Wellness, University of Nevada Las Vegas; Joan Steinman, Associate Director of Training, Truckee Meadows Community College Reno; Joseph Walloch, Licensed Psychologist and Assistant Director of Training, University of Nevada Reno,  

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.