broadsideblog

NYU's Suicides — Nine, As Of Yesterday

In education, Medicine, news on November 4, 2009 at 11:46 am
bobst library

Interior of Bobst Library, NYU. Image by davidsilver via Flickr

What is it about NYU? Or being a student there? Or living in New York? Or is NYU just really unlucky among the many colleges filled with stressed-out or clinically depressed students?

Tuesday, a 20-year-old student Andrew Williamson-Noble, whose family lives in Irvington, NY, a wealthy suburban town north of the city, jumped to his death from the same place so many others have favored, a high floor of the Bobst Library on Washington Square Park. After two students jumped to their deaths at the library a month apart in 2003, the school installed plexiglass barriers to the open sections overlooking the atrium.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students and the third leading cause of death among all youth 15–24 years old. In the U.S., only accidents and homicides claim more young lives.

NYU says it will now block elevator access to the upper floors after hours. The student jumped from the 10th floor around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Here’s the piece of the story that puzzles me: Toronto has had a public library since the 1970s with a similar atrium and floors high enough to jump from. I’ve never heard of someone committing suicide there — there are likely many other facilities with similar physical designs and layouts. Is NYU’s latest tragedy a horrible combination of relatively easy access to a lethal option and a vulnerable population?  If so, what’s the solution? Is there one?

Here’s The Times’ story.

  1. I’d feel bad about suicides at NYU but I’m already busy feeling horrified by the another record year for suicides in the armed forces.

    Somehow, the travails of upper middle class twats pales in comparison to American men and women facing death and despair as a result of Bush and Cheney’s overweening need to prove just how big their junk is.

  2. I have no idea. Maybe kids attending college in a city as big and intimidating as New York can be problematic where mental health is concerned?

    I do know that I won’t be spending much time in Bobst anymore. I have a vivid imagination, and the incidents are just too upsetting.

  3. Jumping is a relatively easy (if ultimately messy) method of suicide… no amassing of lethal drugs, no procuring of a gun, no learning the proper way to tie a noose.

  4. Yup, I think it’s the combination of easy access and the challenge of navigating life in New York at a relatively young age. The absence of a real campus may have something to do with it, too, since other NYC schools don’t appear to have nearly as many suicide incidents.

  5. I attended U of Toronto — 53,000 students in a large city almost as overwhelming as New York. But what U of T does, which makes a big difference in helping you find a “home” even living off-campus, is using the British system (like Oxford or Cambridge) of colleges within its whole, so you take many or all of your more classes on its campus within the university and can easily and quickly make friends as a result. Grads identify more with their college within the university than U of T per se.

    I’d like to find out (sadly) which college has the highest rate of suicide and why.

  6. My understanding is that NYU is actually doing pretty good, although a successful suicide from inside Bobst Library always makes the news and enters our consciousness. Firearms and poison are the two leading causes.The rate of successful student suicide is between 6.5 and 7.5 deaths per 100,000. Firearms and poison are the most popular, not jumping. More kids between 15 and 24 die by their own hand than anything other than homicide and accident. A recent survey showed that 6% of all undergraduates seriously considered suicide in the past year, not just idle thoughts or something brief or intense but serious

    The issue is not between-college comparisons because, with apologies to MASH, suicide is contagious. Peaks and valleys will happen. To my ear the problem is we are failing our youth in a profound way

    (data from Drum, et. al “New data on the nature of suicidal crises in college students: Shifting the paradigm,” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Vol 40(3), Jun 2009, 213-222.)

  7. Todd, thanks…A few questions then…Are we hearing only about NYU because they are more open with this data? If it’s happening, as it is, at other colleges (I recall a famous incident at Harvard or MIT where there parents sued the college), why or how are they keeping it so quiet?

    Virginia Tech’s massacre, in fact, was a suicide, at the end of it all.

    In what specific ways do you think teens or youth are being ignored or pushed to such levels of depression? Without in any way denying this problem, it strikes me as a little weird that after a childhood of “helicopter parenting” where parents did everything for this generation of kids, with whom they text and call many times a day, that kids at college would feel scared or abandoned…?

    If they are scared of graduating into a recession, this is our third recession since 1989…It’s not a new problem.

    What’s pushing these kids to suicide?

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