Towards an understanding of college student distress, suicidality, and connectedness



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Suicide is a national problem and is the second leading cause of death among college students. The concern, however, does not rest solely for those students who seriously consider suicide, but also for those who struggle with distress and do not seek help. Scholars have called for suicide prevention efforts to take a population-based intervention approach, as the majority of campus counseling centers are under-resourced and overwhelmed with demand. Increasing connectedness on college campuses has been considered a key strategy for suicide prevention, as connectedness is linked to health and wellbeing and is also theorized to play an important role in preventing the desire for death. However, little is known about how connectedness manifests for college students and the ways in which connectedness is related to distress and suicidal thoughts. The current exploratory study builds upon existing research by examining the relationship between connectedness, distress, and suicidal thinking. More specifically, the study examines the extent to which connectedness protects students against the development of distress and suicidal thoughts. Moreover, it examines the relationship between gender, sexual orientation, and membership in student groups with connectedness, distress, and suicidal thoughts. This information contributes to a fuller understanding of the factors that may protect people from suicidal thoughts and improve campus suicide prevention efforts, with the aim of bolstering the mental health of the college community. The study uses archival data from a national survey of college student coping collected in 2011 by The National Research Consortium of Counseling Centers in Higher Education. Multiple and logistic regression were used to explore relationships between historical and demographic predictors, self-reported connectedness, distress, and suicidal thoughts during a stressful period. Results indicated that connectedness was negatively related to distress and suicidal thinking. Females endorsed lower connectedness and higher distress than males. Non-heterosexual students endorsed lower connectedness, higher distress, and higher odds of suicidal thinking compared to heterosexual students. Membership in student groups was related to higher connectedness and lower distress, differences were found in the types of groups of which students were members. Implications for population level campus interventions are discussed.