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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


University of Illinios suicide prevention policy forces therapy

A controversial suicide prevention program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has sparked discussion across college campuses nationwide.

Illinois students who attempt or threaten suicide must join the program, consisting of four therapy sessions at the university’s counseling office or face expulsion.

The Illinois program has been in place for two decades and none of the 1,800 students who have gone through have committed suicide while enrolled at the university, according to the Wall Street Journal.


Despite what some may consider a success, University of Wisconsin officials say there are no plans to adopt a similar program here.

“We’re very concerned about suicides,” said UW Dean of Students Luoluo Hong. “We also want to be proactive. We want to provide support to students who might be a danger to themselves. We do not have a policy of expulsion. I frankly think every [student’s] case is different and I don’t think we would make a move toward a similar policy.”

Several other schools nationwide, however, are adopting programs similar to Illinois’, including the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, the University of Washington-Seattle and Northeastern University.

“Other schools are starting to adopt the model but the process is a slow one,” Paul Joffe, head of Illinois’s suicide prevention program, said in an e-mail. Joffe started the program because he believed a nurturing attitude was not always the most effective way of preventing student suicide.

Because colleges are not required to report suicides and there is no central database with this information, it is difficult to know how many college students commit suicide annually in the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal.

Hong described UW’s “I-Team,” or intervention team, as the group who “rally the troops” to intervene when they become aware of a UW student in trouble. The group also meets on a regular basis.

Hong said UW has an emergency suspension policy, whereby if a student “would constitute a potential serious harm to himself or herself” or “a potential for serious harm to other members of the university community,” the student may be temporarily suspended from the university, according to the UW Non-Academic Misconduct Policy.

Robert McGrath, a clinical professor in the UW Psychology department, said he has been impressed with Illinois’ counseling programs.

“We haven’t implemented [Illinois’s suicide prevention program] here,” he said. “What’s valuable [in Illinois’s program] is it shows ‘we’re taking this seriously.’ Mandating counseling is never as effective as voluntary counseling. But when people’s lives are at risk there is value in putting pressure to get help.”

McGrath said the suicide rate is low in Wisconsin compared to the rate nationwide.

“We have a 24-hour crisis hot line. We make ourselves available,” McGrath said. “We take all expressions of suicide very seriously.”

McGrath described suicide as the “ultimate sign of hopelessness,” and added school can be a stressful, demanding setting with intense academic and social pressures. He said students sometimes set unrealistic personal expectations or feel they are “in a crowd not connecting with anyone,” which McGrath said is actually a widespread human feeling.

He said some students have a biochemical predisposition toward depression and suicide.

McGrath also said alcohol as a huge suicide risk factor.

“If you’re depressed and loading up on a biological depressant, it clouds your judgment dramatically,” he said.

He added adolescents and young adults sometimes have a “narrow vision” of the future and feel as though life cannot improve, when in reality, “this too shall pass.”

The rate of suicide among college students “has been established to be one half the rate for their non-college attending peers,” Joffe of Illinois’s program said, adding the state of mind of students who commit or attempt suicide.

“Suicidal behavior among college students is less an act of helpless desperation and more a process of premeditated power and control,” he said, noting in this respect suicide is similar to an eating disorder. “Both share in common a propensity to control, a long term process and entrenched beliefs. Suicidal behavior is not so much caused by external events as it is something that develops over time from within.”

Although Hong said on a campus of 42,000, “you can’t help everyone,” she encouraged students and faculty members to call the I-Team or the Dean of Students’ Office at if they are concerned about a student.

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