TEMPE, Ariz. (KSAZ) - The transition from high school to college can seem overwhelming, where teenagers are suddenly expected to act like adults.
Recent studies show an alarming increase in student depression and suicide. Class loads, part-time work to pay off fees, and crippling student loan debt can be overwhelming. But there is help if students have the means and the will to ask.
"The biggest transition for me moving to college is how it's changed my life," said Tristan.
18-year-old Tristan is a freshman at Arizona State University, but his bout with depression and suicide began at a much younger age.
"I had just moved to a new school in the 6th grade." Attending three different schools in three years was just too much. "I began to think about suicide. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for teenagers to have those thoughts of suicide," he said.
In the past 15 years depression has doubled, and suicide rates have tripled in United States college students, according to a study by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America.
"In fact in one study by the University of California, incoming freshmen were showing the lowest rates of self-reported emotional health they had seen in five decades," said Sandra McNally with Empact.
McNally works with the Empact Suicide Prevention Center; she's seen depression and suicide develop at a much younger age.
"We see it actually with elementary and middle school students as well. They get to college, and it seems like a lot of young adults lack the coping skills, lack the resiliency to be able to feel good about themselves," said McNally.
ASU took some heat in the media recently for closing its on-campus mental health clinic in Tempe. FOX 10 asked ASU for an on-camera interview, but they declined. The university issued the following statement, saying in part; "In cases when a student needs the specialized assistance of a psychiatrist, ASU Health and Counseling Services guide the student to a provider from our extensive network of local psychiatrists."
In other words, students are referred to off-campus psychiatric care.
"I think it's important that students have those resources, and I'm glad that they at least have those counseling resources at the health center on campus that can at least make those referrals," said Tristan.
The move does seem to buck the trend of having more mental health care on campus. The Wall Street Journal recently reported more universities are opening psychiatric centers on campus due to increases in depression and anxiety.
"If institutions are savvy enough to say hey if we can provide some intervention services, we can save some lives down the road," said McNally.
"Of the 14,000 calls a year we get, 1 in 3 of those calls is from a kid who is thinking about giving up, and who is giving up hope," said Nikki Kontz.
Kontz is the Clinical Director for Teen Lifeline, where teenager volunteers take calls from other teens looking for help.
"Teens really prefer to talk to other teens about the problems they are having," said Kontz.
To battle depression and the risk of suicide, Kontz says college students need stronger coping skills.
"For adolescents 18-24-years-old they don't know how to make doctor's appointments by themselves, they've always had families doing that, their parents, now they are expected to be adults," she said.
Kontz says they need something to fall back on, something besides school work.
"They are kids, they are still kids, they need a break," said Kontz.
"I think it's especially hard for teenagers to identify someone in their life who they can talk to about this," said Tristan.
Tristan's parents got him the help he needed, and he has since turned his depression and thoughts of suicide into a positive. Besides studying social work at ASU, he's a Teen Lifeline volunteer.
"If they are calling me they probably don't have anyone else in their life that they can just talk to," he said.
Tristan says he can relate to the issues college freshmen are dealing with.
"They see suicide as an option because they feel so overwhelmed, so trapped by all the issues in their life they cannot see another way out," said Tristan.
But he wants everyone to know, no matter the school, no matter the age, no matter the circumstances causing student depression, there is help out there.
"There is always someone there who you can talk to, who is not going to judge you. Remember, you are not alone in this, there are people who will help you, who will care," he said.
For more information:
Teen Lifeline: (602) 248-TEEN
Empact Suicide Prevention: http://www.empact-spc.com/