Student suicide attempts are on the rise at UCSB according to campus mental health experts.

Director of Counseling Services Jeanne Stanford said the growing trend is disturbing, noting that officials are aware of four suicide attempts so far this quarter and that there is a concern many more are left unreported.

“Between 2006 and 2007 at UCSB, the attempts increased 22 percent, so this is really serious,” Stanford said. “Four serious suicide attempts came to the attention of the Dean’s office this Winter quarter and that’s just the ones that we know about. That’s what’s alarming to me.”

Although suicide attempts on campus have been increasing over the past two decades, there has been a drastic spike in the last few years, Angela Andrade, coordinator of Student Mental Health Services, said.

“There has certainly been an increase in suicide rates,” Andrade said. “I know going back 20 years on our campus we used to see a couple of students a year and now we may see several in a week.”

Stanford said she speculates the rise in suicide rates may be a result of increased stress placed on students by the faltering economy or trauma induced by the post-9/11 war atmosphere. Still, Stanford said it is important to differentiate suicide from suicide attempts – the former being a fairly rare case at UCSB, with only two or three successful cases documented in the last few years.

“Out of the UCs, we have fewer suicides,” Stanford said. “What we’ve seen here, though, is an increase in suicide attempts and an increase in people thinking about suicide, called suicidal ideation. If they’ve gotten to purchasing pills or a gun, that’s gone past the ideation and into a crisis.”

Mental health jumped to the forefront after very publicized reports of UC suicides were released in 2006. The study revealed a student mental health system desperate for funding and staff even as UC campuses were seeing a rise in mental health problems.

Money from students pays for some crisis counseling and UCSB has $400,000 dedicated to permanent funding for mental health services, but mental health is still taking quite a hit from the budget crisis. Without more funding, Michael Young, vice chancellor of student affairs and co-chair of the UC-wide Student Mental Health Committee, said campus officials are unable to further develop the much-needed preventative aspect of mental health care.

“The budgets to all our health services that deal with students in psychological distress have been cut,” Young said. “It’s true that there are measures that we wanted but can’t take because there aren’t the resources. It’s a grave concern of mine.”

Stanford said severed funding to mental health services has delayed the creation of a comprehensive suicide prevention unit.

“Unfortunately, with all the budget cuts we are unable to create a suicide prevention program, so we’re just focusing on intervention,” Stanford said. “We were supposed to get more money to hire more psychologists. The ideal ratio would be 1 psychologist for every 1,500 students, and right now we have 1 to 1,900.”

The concern over the prevalence of campus suicide attempts has prompted the creation of a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline at UCSB, however. In addition, Student Health now houses two social workers, a full medical staff and a psychiatry program.

“The issue of suicide and mental health for me has become the number one priority when looking at the health of students at UCSB,” Young said. “It’s a national problem and it’s my belief that the university has a responsibility to respond with all the services necessary to try to engage these issues.”

Students who are experiencing signs of depression are strongly encouraged to utilize mental health resources on campus. Confidential counseling is available around the clock at (805) 893-4411.