Students cope with an increase in state suicides

Liz Butterfield
Capital News Service

Editor’s note: a name has been removed from this story because its inclusion did not meet The CT’s reporting standards. 

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, behind alcohol and drug overdoses. Twenty-four Virginia college students died from suicide in 2012, according to the Virginia Violent Death Reporting System.

A student death has a ripple effect on the community that should be addressed, said Jihad Aziz, Ph.D., the director of counseling services at VCU.

“Whenever you lose a student, it has a significant impact on the community in a multitude of ways,” Aziz said.

VCU’s university counseling services saw almost 2000 students in the 2012-2013 academic year. Aziz said young adults aged 18 to 24 are still developing, and mental-health issues may arise during this time. He said students, as well as the general population, may turn to suicide if overwhelmed by psychological pain.

“We become instillers of hope,” Aziz said. “If we can help instill hope, then it gives students, or others who are struggling with suicidal ideations, options.”

At-risk people think there are no other options except one that will make the pain go away, Aziz said.

College communities may offer more support than the general population when dealing with personal issues, he said.

“You have all these people here in a sense of community,” Aziz said. “It actually serves as a protective factor to help with students who might be struggling with mental-health concerns.”

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention works to create understanding and prevention with research, education and advocacy, according to its website. Untreated mental illness and substance abuse may be contributing risk factors to suicide, according to Maggie Mortali, director of the Interactive Screening Program for the AFSP.

“If you think a friend is at risk for suicide, ask them,” she said. “I would encourage all students to open the dialogue about mental health.”

Stephan Martin, 21, a junior at Christopher Newport University, said he was in a relationship with Hobie Kopczynski, a VCU student who commited suicide March 30.

Kopczynski, an 18-year-old freshman from York County, Va., wanted to become a cardiothoracic surgeon, according to his hometown newspaper, the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily.

Martin said he and Kopczynski began dating in January 2014 and were very close. Martin recently began weekly grief counseling sessions through CNU’s counseling services.

“(Hobie) was such a perfectionist. It seemed like everything in his life went well for the most part,” Martin said. “Everyone liked him a lot. I think he was very kind-hearted. Sometimes things happen in your life, or situations, when you’re not getting the emotional support you need, (and) it overshadows everything else that’s going on in your life.”

Martin participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention last year in honor of his friend.

“Be more upfront about your feelings,” Martin said to those struggling with negative thoughts. “Focus on the positives. I think that whatever it is that you’re not getting the support with … (know) someone cares about you and someone wants you to live.”

Martin, who plans on attending pharmacy school and is also president of his fraternity, Pi Lambda Phi, described how he copes with his mourning.

“I have a hope that I will somehow see (Hobie) again, and that hope will guide me through the rest of the world,” Martin said. “Be cause right now it kind of feels like it’s over for me, and I know it’s not.”

If you or someone you know is in imminent danger, you are encouraged to call police.

Those struggling with thoughts of suicide also may call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-784-2433.

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