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Online Site Aims to Deter College Suicides

Parents started 'Ulifeline' after their son's death on campus

FRIDAY, Aug. 2,, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- When Phillip and Donna Satow saw their son Jed off to college, it seemed to be the beginning of a wonderful new period of his life.

But in 1998, at age 20, Jed committed suicide in his sophomore year at the University of Arizona. And his story isn't unique.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, according to the National Mental Health Association. It's estimated that at least 1,000 American college students will commit suicide this year.

The Satows want to reduce that toll and help all college students who suffer emotional and mental difficulties.

They've established a new online support system called "Ulifeline" for college students. It offers anonymous access to mental health information and support, provides screening tools for depression and suicide risk, and can link students to their college's mental health center.

Other features include a drug interaction center, mental health library and documentary videos.

Ulifeline is a project of the non-profit Jed Foundation, which the Satows established following their son's suicide. It's dedicated to reducing the youth suicide rate and improve mental health support provided to American college students.

Phillip Satow says Ulifeline was inspired by discussions he had with University of Arizona students after his son killled himself.

"So many students there spoke to me about the development of a Web site. They felt it would be so valuable for them, in an anonymous way, to go to one place, have a URL to go to and have their questions answered or potentially be screened," Satow says.

"The development of this site and the items on the site came about really from the students themselves. I have really answered what are the perceived student needs," he says.

Ulifeline is available to universities through a free subscription. Each university gets a customized site that provides its students with information about mental health programs and resources at their university and in the local community.

Parents need to pay attention to their children's mental health and not rely on anyone else to do it, says Dr. Monica Michell, attending psychiatrist and former chief of child and adolescent psychiatry, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City.

"What I would say to parents is that the responsibility may belong to the school and the health care system to a certain extent, but when push comes to shove, no one is really going to care about your child as much as you do. So, keep you eyes on your child," she says.

She says parents who suspect something is wrong should arrange for their child to see a mental health professional.

"If you're worried, it's always worth seeking a consultation or evaluation even if the outcome ... is that someone says your child is homesick and going through an adjustment period in the first year of college," Michell says.

Satow says there are about 30 universities on the waiting list, and he expects to have about a dozen online by mid-August. He hopes to eventually get all universities in the United States to subscribe to the program.

Ulifeline is only for colleges students. But the Jed Foundation plans a section at its home Web site to offer information and advice for parents concerned about the mental and emotional well-being of their children about to start, or already at college.

The Jed Foundation says parents, college officials and fellow students should be on the lookout for suicide warning signs. They include: social withdrawal; dramatic personality changes; drug or alcohol abuse; notes or poems about death; talk about suicide; giving away prized possessions; decline in quality of schoolwork; difficulty concentrating; dramatic change in eating or sleeping habits; extreme distress about romantic relationships.

And here's information from the Jed Foundation about risk factors. They include:

  • Mental illness -- 90 percent of adolescents who commit suicide have at least one diagnosable, active psychiatric illness.
  • Previous suicide attempts -- Among adolescents who commit suicide, between 26 and 33 percent have made a previous suicide attempt.
  • Stressors -- In many cases, a youth suicide happens after the victim has been in trouble or had a recent disappointment, rejection or academic pressure.
  • Firearms -- 64 percent of suicide victims between 10 and 24 years old used a gun to kill themselves.

    What To Do

    You can get more information about Ulifeline and the Jed Foundation by clicking here.

    More information about suicide prevention can be found at the Nemours Foundation.

    And the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is holding a special overnight walk in Washington, D.C., this month to raise awareness of the issue. For further information, you can click here.

  • SOURCES: Phillip Satow, Jed Foundation, New York City; Monica Michell, M.D., attending psychiatrist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City
    Consumer News