Suicide at Colleges: Rates, Research, and Statistics

Suicide is a leading cause of death among college students. Learn about suicide rates in colleges and research-based prevention strategies.
11 min read

Share this Article

Note: If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (dial 988), available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are confidential, and anyone can use this service.

Data Summary

  • Check
    Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among college students.[1]
  • Check
    5.6 out of 100,000 students at Big Ten schools died by suicide from 2009-2018.[2]
  • Check
    The college student suicide rate is lower than the suicide rate among all 18-24-year-olds in the U.S.[3]
  • Check
    In 2022, 2% of college students surveyed said they had attempted suicide in the past year.[4] That's higher than reports from 2007-2021.[5]
  • Check
    Transgender and nonbinary students report far higher rates of suicide-related thoughts and behaviors than cisgender students.[6], [7]
  • Check
    Pacific Islander, Native American, and Black college students report higher suicide attempt rates than students of other races.Note Reference [5]
  • Check
    Suicide is preventable. Colleges can work to reduce the stigma of getting help, end discrimination against certain student groups, and eliminate barriers to culturally sensitive mental health care.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for adults ages 18-24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It causes about 21% of all injury-related deaths in this age group.Note Reference [3]

While college students have far lower rates of suicide than the general population, a substantial number of students experience suicide-related thoughts and behaviors — some student groups more than others.

This report explores national survey data and research studies about suicide in colleges in order to better understand what challenges students face and what schools can do to support them.

Suicide Rates at Colleges

Possibly the most commonly cited study of suicide rates among university students claims that 7.5 out of 100,000 students dies by suicide.[8] However, the 10-year study of undergraduate and graduate students at Big Ten universities, published in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, is from the 1980s.

More recent research suggests that the college student suicide rate has decreased over the decades. In another study at Big Ten schools, published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, researchers found that 5.6 out of 100,000 students died by suicide between 2009-2018.Note Reference [2]

It's important to recognize that these studies only looked at 13 large, Midwestern universities.

A 2013 study of 157 four-year colleges published in the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy found that the suicide was the second-leading cause of death for college students, following accidental injury.Note Reference [1] Suicide was more common than death by cancer, homicide, or alcohol-related injuries.

Based on these studies, college students have far lower rates of suicide than the general population. According to the CDC, the suicide rate among all 18-24-year-olds in the U.S. is about 80.5 out of 100,000 people.Note Reference [3] That's over 14 times the college student suicide rate from the recent Big Ten study.

Feeling connected to one's school and being able to access mental health care services can be protective factors against suicide. However, many college students experience suicide-related thoughts and have even attempted suicide, which can be a risk factor for suicide in the future.[9]

Student Suicide Survey Data

Since 2007, the annual Healthy Minds Study has surveyed over 520,000 undergraduate and graduate students. From 2007-2021:Note Reference [5]

  • 21.3% of students reported intentionally injuring themselves within a year of the survey.
  • 11.7% of students reported suicidal ideation within the year.
  • 4.6% had planned a suicide.
  • 1.2% had attempted suicide.

These numbers increased in 2022:Note Reference [4]

  • 28% of students reported intentionally injuring themselves within the past year.
  • 15% reported suicidal ideation.
  • 6% had planned a suicide.
  • 2% had attempted suicide.

Additionally, the American College Health Association (ACHA) surveyed nearly 70,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students about their mental health. It included questions that screen for suicide-related thoughts and behaviors.

  • About 30% of undergraduate college students screened positive on a suicide-related behavior questionnaire, meaning they reported some sucide-related thoughts or behaviors.Note Reference [6]
  • About 21% of graduate students screened positive on the questionnaire.Note Reference [7]

Student Suicide and Gender

Transgender and gender-nonconforming students were more likely to report having attempted suicide and other suicide-related behaviors than their cisgender peers.

  • More than half of transgender and gender-nonconforming graduate students (52%) screened positive for suicide-related behaviors, compared to 21% of all graduate students.Note Reference [7]
  • 7.4% of trans and gender-nonconforming undergraduates students said they had attempted suicide in the past year, versus 3% of cis men and 2.3% of cis women.
  • While cis men students tend to report lower suicide-related behaviors in general, they report higher suicide attempts than cis women students.Note Reference [6], Note Reference [7]
  • Cis men also have higher rates of suicide in the general population, compared to cis women.Note Reference [3]

A Deeper Look

Suicide and LGBTQ+ Communities

In a 2022 BestColleges survey, nearly one-third of LGBTQ+ students (30%) said they had thoughts of suicide in the past year, almost double the percentage for straight students (16%).

Beyond college campuses, several national research studies confirm that transgender youth and adults report higher rates of attempted suicide compared to the entire population.[10]

Additionally, in 2016, researchers reviewed over 30 studies and found that while 4% of the heterosexual population reported having attempted suicide, 11% of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual population reported having attempted suicide.[11]

Being LGBTQ+ isn't a risk factor, but experiencing discrimination and lacking access to identity-affirming health care is. Find more information, resources, and advice about mental health for LGBTQ+ students.

Student Suicide and Race

Pacific Islander, Native American, and Black students have reported far higher rates of attempted suicide than students of other races.Note Reference [5]

  • 3.3% of Pacific Islander students in the Healthy Minds surveys from 2007-2021 reported having attempted suicide in the year prior to the survey — that's almost three times the national rate of 1.2%.
  • 2.5% of Native American students reported having attempted suicide — more than twice the national rate.
  • 1.8% of Black college students reported having attempted suicide.

When it comes to the general (non-student) population, non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native, white, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander adults have disproportionately high rates of suicide.[12]

A Deeper Look

Race, Gender, and Sexuality

Overlapping identities — like race, gender, and sexuality — impact how someone experiences racism, transphobia, and homophobia, which can influence mental health and suicide risk.

Research and national survey efforts by LGBTQ+ suicide prevention organization The Trevor Project found:[13]

  • Youth of color who were LGBTQ+ reported higher rates of attempting suicide.
  • Youth who were Native/Indigenous and Two-Spirit/LGBTQ+ were over twice as likely as white LGBTQ+ youth to report attempting suicide in the past year (33% compared to 14%).
  • Youth who were Black and trans or nonbinary also report disproportionately high rates of considering (59%) and having attempted suicide (26%).

Learn more about challenges LGBTQ+ students of color face in college and find supportive organizations in our LGBTQ+ Students of Color Resource Guide.

Preventing Suicide on College Campuses

Suicide is preventable. The CDC lists prevention strategies for states and communities, including: developing financial security and housing, reducing access to lethal weapons among people at risk, improving healthcare, and other interpersonal supports.[14]

Additionally, research points to some strategies that colleges and people who support college students can use to prevent suicide.

1. Reduce Stigma About Mental Health Concerns.

Researchers who used Healthy Minds survey data from 2007-2018, including responses from over 150,000 college students, found that students who perceived higher levels of public stigma around mental health conditions reported higher rates of suicide-related thoughts or attempts.[15]

2. Defend Against Discrimination.

A 2019 study including nearly 900 LGBTQ+ students found that experiencing discrimination was linked to depression and suicide attempts. Also, students who had experienced more victimization, such as verbal or physical threats or assaults, reported higher rates of suicide-related thoughts or behaviors.[16]

Social connectedness was associated with less severe depression and suicidal ideation or behaviors. Additionally, positive identity affirmation (defined by self-acceptance and a sense of belonging) helped curb depression levels for students who had been victimized.

3. Eliminate Specific Barriers to Mental Health Care.

In 2020, researchers used data from roughly 3,400 students who screened for elevated suicide risk to identify barriers to using mental health services. Barriers differed for different student groups.

LGBTQ+, Black, and Hispanic students identified finances and a lack of sensitivity to cultural issues as significant barriers. Women, too, identified a lack of financial resources as a barrier to accessing care. Worries about privacy or stigma kept men and younger students from getting help. White students and older students identified a lack of time as a barrier.[17]

A Deeper Look

Suicide, Veteran Status, Disability, and Rural Location

Suicide rates and barriers to mental health care vary across cultural, social, demographic, and other groups. According to the CDC:Note Reference [12]

  • The suicide rate among military veterans is 57.3% greater than within the non-veteran population.
  • Adults with disabilities were three times more likely to report suicide-related thoughts than people without disabilities.
  • Rural areas experience higher suicide rates than cities.

In a 2011 American Psychological Association survey, 7.7% of college students who were veterans reported a suicide attempt.[18] There are some studies about suicidality in rural college students but no evidence-based interventions for this group.[19] Overall, more research is needed on suicide prevalence and prevention among college students who are veterans, have disabilities, or live in rural communities.

Resources for Students

For more information about preventing suicide, find resources in the guides linked below. Remember, you can always contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. The line is available 24/7, all calls are confidential, and anyone can use this service.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this website is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Readers of this website should consult with their physician to obtain advice with respect to any medical condition or treatment.