Also, 15 percent of students surveyed reported having seriously considered attempting suicide and more than 5 percent reported making a suicide attempt at least once in their lifetime.
Psychologist David J. Drum, PhD, and co-authors at the University of Texas at Austin have reported their findings from a Web-based survey conducted by the National Research Consortium of Counseling Centers in Higher Education.
The researchers found that six percent of undergraduates and 4 percent of graduate students reported seriously considering suicide within the 12 months prior to answering the survey.
Therefore, the researchers posit, at an average college with 18,000 undergraduate students, some 1,080 undergraduates will seriously contemplate taking their lives at least once within a single year.
Approximately two-thirds of those who contemplate suicide will do so more than once in a 12-month period.
The majority of students described their typical episode of suicidal thinking as intense and brief, with more than half the episodes lasting one day or less.
The survey showed that, for a variety of reasons, more than half of students who experienced a recent suicidal crisis did not seek professional help or tell anyone about their suicidal thoughts.
In the study, researchers used separate samples of undergraduate and graduate students. College sizes ranged from 820 to 58,156 students, with 17,752 being the average.
For the 15,010 undergraduates, 62 percent were female and 38 percent were percent male. Seventy-nine percent were white and 21 percent were minorities.
Ninety-five percent identified themselves as heterosexual and 5 percent identified as bisexual, gay or undecided. The average age was 22. For the 11,441 graduates, 60 percent were female and 40 percent were male.
Seventy-two percent were white and 28 percent were minorities. Ninety-four percent identified themselves as heterosexual and 6 percent identified as bisexual, gay or undecided. The average age was 30.
The reasons that both undergraduate and graduate students gave for their suicidal thinking were wanting relief from emotional or physical pain, problems with romantic relationships, the desire to end their life and problems with school or academics.
The survey showed that 14 percent of undergraduates and 8 percent of graduate students who seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous 12 months made a suicide attempt.
Nineteen percent of undergraduate attempters and 28 percent of graduate student attempters required medical attention. Half of attempters reported overdosing on drugs as their method, said the authors.
In the wake of the survey, the researchers found that suicidal thoughts are a frequently recurring experience akin to substance abuse, depression and eating disorders.
They also found that relying solely upon the current treatment model, which identifies and helps students who are in crisis, is insufficient for addressing reducing all forms of suicide behaviour on college campuses.
The authors suggest a new model for dealing with the problem of student suicidal tendencies in order to address the entire continuum of suicidal thoughts and behaviours.
The study was presented at the 116th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.