A mixed-methods study of a nationally representative sample

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. One potential reason for this public health issue is that students reporting a recent (past 12 months) attempt are less likely to access mental health services compared to their peers without a recent attempt. This is deeply troubling as college students have a variety of social coping resources available to them on campus, including free/reduced mental health care.

Research is lacking on students’ disclosure patterns, why some students seek help and others do not, and most notably, what improvements they would make to existing systems of care. Few studies have addressed help-seeking among college students experiencing suicidal behaviors, and recommendations from students to improve services have not been examined.

The purpose of the study is to address two federal initiatives including (1) upstream prevention approaches to care and (2) Zero Suicide. The project will utilize the 2011 The University of Texas’s Research Consortium (RC) database of 73 colleges and universities nationwide to examine students’ help seeking attitudes and behaviors, their coping resources, and their recommendations for improvements in mental health promotion services following a recent suicidal ideation.

The study will employ a mixed-methods model in analysis of data. Quantitative data analysis will analyze survey response answers. The data will be used to (1) describe the onset of suicidal behaviors, and also recent reports of ideation and attempts in a nationally representative college sample; (2) describe the help seeking attitudes and behaviors and also students’ appraisals and recommendations for mental health coping resources; and (3) examine heterogeneity of racial/ethnic, gender and sexual orientation presentations and the intersection of race/ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, in suicidal behaviors, help seeking attitudes and behaviors, and appraisals and recommendations for mental health coping resources

Qualitative analysis will be used to deduce general themes that are salient to students’ decisions to seek help or not, their appraisals of care and recommendations for improved care. All responses will be read and coded, with the potential to create new themes as necessary. Interviews will then be coded dichotomously (yes=1, if a theme was present; no=0, if a theme was not present).

This study will inform researchers on these important behavioral factors and inform clinicians and policy makers on best practices to meet college students’ needs in terms of access to care.