Schools turn to web for suicide prevention aid

Faced with a growing number of student suicides, some schools are trying to combat the trend by offering depressed students the anonymity of the internet to seek mental health counseling.

More than 80 universities have signed up so far for, which provides students with an anonymous and nonthreatening link to their schools’ mental health centers for information, counseling, or to schedule appointments.

At the same time, the free program gives universities the chance to help ailing students by using a favorite tool: the internet.

“It’s a tragic element of college life that suicide is part of it,” said Peter Likins, president of the University of Arizona. “Often times, people in depression are not able to go to mental health services that are available on campuses. They’re embarrassed. [But] some of these youngsters may be willing to explore on the internet and get some anonymous feedback.”

The suicide rate among 15- to 24-year-olds has tripled since the 1950s, and now stands at 9.9 deaths per 100,000 people. is designed as a template that can be customized to the needs of any college or university to reflect the programs and policies of its mental health center. The site provides universities with a free resource for bringing existing mental health services to their student population and complements, rather than replaces, the mental health information students already receive, the site’s creators say.

In addition, Ulifeline’s “Go Ask Alice!” service reportedly answers about 1,500 mental health questions a week from college and high school students, parents, teachers, older adults, and others.

A mental health and drug information library also is available to students through a resource called IntelliHealth, which features the consumer health information of Harvard Medical School. More than 150 health care organizations contribute to the breadth of its content, which is reviewed for accuracy by medical professionals, according to the site’s creators.

Finally, software developed at Duke University allows Ulifeline users to be screened for various categories of depression. The Duke Diagnostic Psychiatry Screening Program provides valuable direction to both students and counselors and links to a professional contact within the university health-care community.

The diagnostic tool is not meant to take the place of an evaluation by a physician or mental health professional. However, a positive result suggests that the student would benefit from comprehensive mental health screening, according to the site.

The web site is one of several programs offered by the Jed Foundation, which was created by Phil and Donna Satow after their 20-year-old son Jed took his own life in 1998 by hanging himself.

Phil Satow said the internet is the perfect medium to teach the current generation of students about the signs of depression. Realizing they missed those signs has been difficult for Jed’s friends to live with, he said.

“That’s what’s been so devastating for them,” Satow said. “That’s one of the reasons they felt this web site was so important.”

Jay Zimmerman, the associate director of Ball State’s counseling center, said the web site can help eliminate the stigma associated with mental health disorders.

“The more students who access our web site, the more information they have, the more likely they are to get help or get help for their friends,” he said. “And, the more likely they are to lead happier, healthier lives.”

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