Book by Dorian A. Lamis & David Lester (Eds.)
Review by: Sybil L. Holloway
Center for Counseling and Human Development
Bloomsburg University

Understanding and Preventing College Student Suicide is a timely text covering many aspects of suicide ranging from the troubled individuals to the wider community.  Thoroughly researched and detailed, this book contains twenty chapters by contributing authors elaborating on the many risk and protective factors as well as identification and treatment.  Special emphasis is given to community prevention and intervention strategies which colleges can customize and implement on their own campuses.

Amid the many statistics – for example, “According to a report by the National Mental Health Association and the Jed Foundation (2002), suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students in the United States” (p. 48) – is a wealth of good practical information about specific stressors for different types of college populations and useful suggestions for minimizing the negative aspects of these stressors in order to promote a healthy and supportive campus climate that can serve as a protective factor against suicide.  The authors do an excellent job of providing a comprehensive look at the issue and including recent examples from the media, such as Tyler Clementi’s suicide and the Virginia Tech massacre.

Some of the issues discussed include the following:  the effectiveness of policies that restrict firearms on campus; the relatively low number of suicide completers who used campus counseling services; the various stressors and pre-existing mental health conditions of many students; theoretical models which explain suicidal behaviors; relevant demographic variables (e.g. age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability status, religion, etc.); the usefulness of gatekeeper training; alcohol involvement in suicides; approaches to effective suicidal assessment and clinical treatment; different levels of intervention (including “postvention”); strengths and weaknesses of the research studies; and legal issues (e.g., possible university liability for negligence in student suicides, privacy laws such as FERPA and their exceptions, etc.).

 As a clinical psychologist, I particularly appreciated Part III: Identification and Treatment, which contains a case study, and other chapters discussing assessment and therapy interventions.  These issues are a routine part of my daily work with students.  Authors note, and it should be emphasized that, suicidal (and homicidal) students are not the responsibility of only college counseling centers and law enforcement authorities.  The entire campus community needs to be involved.  In fact, the majority of suicide completers have not visited their college counseling centers.  This fact makes it even more important that everyone – faculty, Residence Life staff, administrators, coaches, and others – is aware of signs of student distress and emergency procedures so that interventions and referrals can be timely and more effective.  With murder-suicides like the Virginia Tech tragedy having received increasing attention in the news, it’s important to remember that proper identification and response to one troubled individual could likely save the lives of others as well.  Many colleges offer gatekeeper training and other programming activities to educate campus members in identifying and intervening with troubled students.  I highly recommend attendance and participation at these suicide prevention activities.

This book should be high-priority reading not only for academic advisors, but also anyone working on a college campus that has frequent interactions with students or responsibility for their safety and welfare.  The stakes are high as these are life-and-death issues that affect all communities.  Advisors, due to the nature of their jobs, play an important role in student development by being able to track individual students over time and document their progress and problems.  If a student displays several risk factors for suicide, special attention should be given to providing extra support and resources within the campus environment.  Preventing college student suicide requires a group effort, and advisors are key players.

National Mental Health Association & The Jed Foundation. (2002). Safeguarding your students against suicide.  Available at http://www.jed-foundation.org

Understanding and preventing college student suicide (2011).  Book by Dorian A. Lamis & David Lester (Eds.).  Review by Sybil Holloway. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Publisher.  360 pp. $69.95 (hardback).  ISBN # 978-0-398-08669-5

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