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Suicide is the second most common cause of death among college students. Here's why colleges aim to be proactive with mental health treatment.

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Posted at 6:29 PM, Apr 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-26 10:56:54-04

DE PERE (NBC 26) — It’s an issue that’s often invisible, but all too common. Suicide is the second most common cause of death among college students according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

Earlier this month, UW-Madison track star Sarah Shulze tragically passed away at just 21-years-old. The athlete took her own life, her family said in a statement, writing "balancing athletics, academics and the demands of every day life overwhelmed her in a single, desperate moment."

Her family has since established the Sarah Shulze Foundation to continue to support the causes most important to her, such as advancing and supporting women’s rights, student athletes and mental health.

Tom Doughman, the assistant director of counseling and psychological services at St. Norbert College, says that depression and anxiety are among the most common mental health issues that students face.

“One of the biggest challenges today is that students are feeling so much pressure to be successful,” Doughman said.

That pressure to succeed combined with multiple responsibilities between school, jobs, and extracurriculars can become overwhelming for students.

“They’re expecting to do well, socially, academically and financially," Doughman said. "If you’re a full-time student, and a student athlete as well, having time to do everything is really difficult.”

"Even college age students, their capacity to take in all that information, that competitiveness between people, it's not as well developed as it could be," said Tally Moses, an associate professor at the UW-Madison School of Social Work. "Especially among girls and women, there's a sense of perfectionism."

In addition to students' many responsibilities, Moses says adding problems in their personal lives on top of that stress can create a mental health crisis.

“Maybe a romantic situation gone awry or some problems with the family or roommate issues, it doesn’t take much to create a crisis," Moses said.

That’s why many colleges aim to be proactive when it comes to mental health treatment. At St. Norbert College, counseling and psychological services are on call 24 hours a day.

“If somebody else has said my friend, my colleague, has an issue they’ll reach out to us and we can talk to them and come right to campus at that time," Doughman said.

Students are often referred to counseling and psychological services by their peers or instructors. It’s part of what the college calls its community of care - and Doughman says that proactive action just might save a life.

"We might hear from three or four different people on campus 'hey I'm not sure what's going on with this person but you may want to talk to them.' Anywhere from a facilities or housekeeping person to a professor or one of the administrators on campus," Doughman said.