Colleges lack suicide prevention system
A law school student at Ewha Womans University was found dead on campus in an apparent suicide last week. The circumstances surrounding the sequence of events before her death showed it could have been prevented if more attention had been given or quicker measures had been taken. The incident served as a reminder of the lack of preparedness and support system for high-risk students on university campuses.
The death was a result of the student’s second suicide attempt of the day, according to the school, police and student witnesses. She was deterred from her first attempt by a building security guard. The case was reported to the school’s security office, and the student, who insisted she was okay, was escorted back to her dormitory by a school guard and a campus police officer. But she was found dead 15 minutes later.
According to the emergency field manual by the National Mental Health Center, a person who has already attempted suicide or has shown signs they may do so soon must be immediately transferred to the hospital, police station or suicide prevention center to deter selfharm.
In a phone interview, the university said it followed the emergency manual after the first attempt was reported. After the death occurred, the guard and the officer were in the process of reporting the situation to the on-duty dormitory head, who would decide the next step, the school said. It admitted the student — who insisted she was okay and was allowed to return to her room alone — was let out of sight by the guard and officer in this process.
The university says it is now consulting with relevant authorities to improve suicide prevention.
“The school is thinking of making suicide prevention training sessions, which university staff already must go through, also compulsory for security personnel from outside contractors,” said professor Chun Jongserl, the university’s public relations head.
Shin Eun-jung, deputy head of the Korea Suicide Prevention Center, says all university students should be required to take a course in suicide prevention.
“Lots of middle and high schools now provide suicide prevention gatekeeper training to students following the education ministry’s calls. Universities, however, are much more autonomously run and do not require students to take such training,” Shin said.
Suicide prevention “gatekeeper” training helps people spot the warning signs in members of their community and make sure at-risk individuals get professional help.
Without compulsory group training in suicide prevention, Shin says young people in their early 20s will remain in a “regulatory blind spot.”
“If a training and monitoring system had been in place, someone could have stepped in and helped the deceased before even the first suicide attempt,” Shin said.