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Colleges Add More Counseling Amid Student Suicide Increase

By Karen W. Arenson

The New York Times -- Increasingly, college officials and mental health experts have come to realize that many of the students prone to self-injury and suicide never go near counseling centers or reveal anything about their experience before college.

As a result, colleges are stepping up efforts to find those students at risk and to get them into treatment, sometimes even forcing them to go home.

The goal is to help students, but colleges have more at stake. Suicide -- the second-biggest cause of death on campuses after accidents -- can be costly, injuring reputations and prompting litigation.

The suicide of Elizabeth Shin, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 2000, and strings of suicides at New York University, George Washington University and the University of Illinois, have drawn wide attention.

There has been an increase in lawsuits against colleges in cases of student suicides as well.

Ann H. Franke, a vice president of United Educators, which insures 1,200 universities, colleges and schools, said suicide-related claims have risen; her company, she said, now has a “handful” of claims, up from none six years ago.

“They can be very severe claims financially,” Franke said, “not to mention the emotional and reputational impact they can have on a school.”

Mental health experts say they believe the rate of suicides among college students has been steady for years -- about 1,100 a year, or about 7.5 per 100,000 students, which is actually lower than the rate for young adults not in college. But the numbers are based on a study of a dozen universities in the 1980s, and experts say reports of suicides do not always reflect students who commit suicide off campus.

But the best way to reach these students remains unclear, and students do not always welcome the intervention.