The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Professor emeritus John Westfeld presents on college suicide epidemic

Professor Emeritus John Westefeld delivers a lecture on suicide, covering such topics as prevention, assessment, and other important issues.
The Daily Iowan; Photos by Katin
Professor Emeritus of the UI Counseling Psychology Program John Westefeld addresses the audience during Suicide: Prevention, Intervention, and Postvention at Biology Building East on May 03, 2018. The lecture covered ways to prevent suicide and how to provide help to suicidal individuals. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

Every 90 seconds, someone will commit suicide, according to research by the American Association of Suicidology. Suicide is a growing problem on college campuses, sparking conversations about mental health and ways to provide treatment and support for struggling individuals.

On Thursday evening, psychologist and University of Iowa Professor Emeritus John Westefeld discussed suicide as part of the Emeritus Faculty Lecture Series. The topics Westefeld covered included analyzing data, assessing suicidal risk, prevention and intervention, and current national issues surrounding suicide in various populations.

Westefeld became interested in psychology and studying suicide because of friends and family members who had attempted or committed suicide.

“It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out that what I’m doing here is a way to give back to my friend Tony,” Westefeld said.

He said suicide is a growing problem among aging populations. The average of these age groups far exceeds those 18-24 years of age, though Westefeld acknowledges it is still a major problem among younger ages.

“Any person from any walk of life can attempt or complete suicide,” Westefeld said.

This statement was echoed by Mary and Frank Scamman, who lost their daughter to suicide several years ago.

“The college population can be fragile, under stress, etc.,” Mary Scamman said. “If people are considering ending their lives, they need to go get help. So many people have had an experience with someone they knew who has committed suicide, and that applies to college students as well.”

Frank Scamman said he believes social media and bullying have a large impact on suicidal ideation, and there needs to be more monitoring of the issues.

“We need to figure out how to help people who are being bullied, either face-to-face or through social media, and get them diffused from the feelings of hopelessness,” he said.

According to information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 13.95 per 100,000 Iowans lost their lives in 2017 to suicide; the national average was 13.26 per 100,000. Six times as many people die by suicide in Iowa annually than by homicide, which highlights the need for suicide-prevention initiatives throughout the state.

There are many resources for Iowa City community members who struggle with suicidal thoughts and feelings. The University Counseling Center offers individual and group counseling for a variety of issues, available for UI students, faculty, and staff.

The Johnson County Crisis Center also provides a 24-hour hotline for emergency situations, as well as support groups and outreach programs for struggling individuals. Westefeld advocates for checking in on friends and loved ones who are displaying concerning behaviors, because the intervention may help to alleviate the crisis.

“It’s more likely you’re going to save a life than cause a death by reaching out to somebody,” Westefeld said.


More to Discover