A recent analysis from the Associated Press shows almost half of the nation’s largest public universities don’t track student suicides. And East Carolina University is one of those schools.
Like many four-year schools, ECU offers students access to psychiatrists, therapists and a crisis hotline through the university’s counseling center. Students can get prescriptions for psychiatric drugs filled at an on-campus pharmacy. And school-wide programs to raise awareness about mental illness occur every year.
Though suicide prevention is one of the goals of these services, ECU is one of many public universities in the U.S. that don’t track the number of student suicides. Dr. Lynn Roeder, ECU’s dean of students, says that’s because it’s hard to know if student deaths are intentional or accidental.
“It’s very, very difficult to keep track of something like that. We don’t get coroner reports. We don’t get autopsies. Unless, parents would tell us, we don’t really know.”
A correlation between student suicide rates and campus mental health services might not even exist, Roeder said. Even if the two were connected, it would be difficult to prove, she said. And that’s not only because the school doesn’t track suicides – patient confidentiality prevents the school from gathering data based on student mental health records, Roeder said.
“If a student has attempted their own life, we can’t say whether or not they would’ve benefited from treatment or not – or if they were in treatment,” she said. “Typically, if a young person or anybody is committed to taking their own life, it’s a very personal thing. It’s not something they’re going to reach out for help all the time. That’s the difficulty.”
Thousands of students use ECU’s counseling center every school year, Roeder said. But her office has no plans to start tracking the number of suicides among students, she said.
The U.S. Department of Education asks universities to track the number of student deaths – but there’s no push for four-year schools to keep records on the number of suicides among students.
University of North Carolina at Charlotte was the only school in the state on the AP’s list that consistently keeps a record of student suicides.