Suicide takes the lives of more than 1,000 college students nationwide each year, but Tennessee is lagging behind in campus prevention.
A new law hopes to change that.
A 2018 report by the Associated Press found nearly half of the country's largest public institutions of higher education weren’t collecting data on suicide deaths, including Middle Tennessee State University.
Tennessee was one of the last states to start tracking student suicides, and most of its colleges have no prevention plan in place, according to Joanne Perley of the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network.
But a state law taking effect July 1 requires all state institutions of higher education to develop and publicize their own protocols for mental health crises.
Perley said it’s an important step.
“This is a breakthrough,” Perley said. “We’re all uncomfortable talking about suicide, but we know that we have to, since it is the second-leading cause of death for college students in our nation.”
A recent national study found about one in five of the 67,000 undergraduate students surveyed had thought about suicide, and nearly 10% had attempted to take their lives at some point.
Implementing a suicide prevention plan could be more of a challenge for smaller community colleges and technical schools, which often don’t have their own mental health centers. Heidi Leming, a vice chancellor at the Tennessee Board of Regents, says those institutions will need to partner with outside organizations that can counsel students in need.
The new law builds on the work of a suicide prevention task force established by former Gov. Bill Haslam in 2017. Over a dozen schools have already joined the Tennessee Higher Education Suicide Prevention Network, which hopes to train more than 12,000 faculty or staff members on college campuses throughout the state.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.