Characteristics and Risk Factors for Suicide and Deaths Among College Students: A 23-Year Serial Prevalence Study of Data From 8.2 Million Japanese College Students

Objective: Suicide is a leading cause of death for college students. The aim of this study was to identify risk factors of suicide among college students that could improve university services to help prevent college suicide.

Methods: We conducted a 23-year serial prevalence study of the prevalence and characteristics of death and suicide among 8,262,314 Japanese college students. We analyzed rates of suicide from the 1989 to 1990 academic year through the 20112012 academic year and characterized suicide among this population, focusing on students’ sex and psychiatric and academic backgrounds to identify risk factors for suicide.

Results: Suicide rates increased throughout the 23 years, and suicide was the leading cause of death every year from 1996 onward. Suicide accounted for 42.4% of all deaths that happened in the 23 years. Male students, medicine majors, students in the final year of their program, and students who completed extra years of schooling or took academic leaves of absence were at higher risk for suicide. Only 16.4% had received an official psychiatric diagnosis and 16.0% had received services through the university health center prior to the suicides.

Conclusions: Results suggest the need for a stronger support system for college students. Areas for improvement could include better advertising of mental health services, student and staff education about suicide risk factors, and mentorship and outreach programs for students in their final year of classes, those majoring in medicine, and those who have taken leaves of absence or failed classes. Accommodations at the administrative level would also be helpful for students who need to retake classes or transfer credit.

J Clin Psychiatry 2017;78(4):e404–e412

https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.16m10807