With the Mental Health Crisis forming such a talking point in this year’s student officer elections, I thought it fitting to take a second look at the briefing they presented to the state. My minimal research turned up some very interesting findings about the claims of that report, and I’m happy to share those.
Claim: 14% of students had seriously considered suicide in the past two weeks.
This claim is not actually true. Looking at the very same data cited in the briefing, the source says only 2% reported seriously considering suicide in the past two weeks. It appears that whoever constructed the briefing simply read the numbers wrong, as the number right above the 2% who seriously considered suicide in the last two weeks is the 14% who had not seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months. A simple mistake, but a pretty devastating one as relates to this claim.
Claim: Utah has one of the highest suicide rates in America.
True, but the suicide rate among students is actually quite low. Students in Utah have a suicide rate below even the level the United States hopes to lower its suicide rate to.
Claim: One in four students has considered or is considering suicide.
Again, true, but only 9 percent of those have done so in the last year. This statistic really doesn’t show much. The majority of the one in four students have not considered suicide at all recently, quite likely not since they began college.
Not only are the claims made in the briefing largely inaccurate, they don’t include any data specific to Utah State. We have no reason to believe that this data reflects the situation at Utah State, and there are a couple reasons to believe that it might not. First is the disparity between the college student attempted suicide rates in the study and the reported college student attempted suicide rate in Utah. The study reports 1.5 percent of students have attempted suicide in the last 12 months. Remember that number. The mental health crisis briefing reports over 100 attempted suicides by college students in Utah. If we are very generous with “over 100” and take it to mean 200, Utah students still only attempt suicide at a rate of 0.1 percent, or 15 times less than the study’s report. The data we have here is saying that in Utah, college students are significantly less likely to attempt suicide than at other universities around the country.
Second, we don’t have much data from the mental health department here at USU. The only statistic shown in the briefing is that 56% of diagnoses at the USU Health and Wellness Center were mental health diagnoses. We have no idea how many students that is, or how that compares to national numbers.
I hope no one will be foolish enough to think I am criticizing this because I don’t think mental illnesses are a problem. Of course they are. It is not, however, a problem that is out of control. It is not an epidemic, there is no mental health crisis, and it’s pretty doubtful that there’s a whole lot more that we could do about it. If there is something more that could be done, the Mental Health Crisis briefing does not demonstrate a viable solution or even a need for one.
— Michael Larsen is a computer science major graduating this semester. He spends way too much of my free time dabbling in politics and statistics. He grew up in Springville, UT, but spent four years abroad in Europe, where he met my wife. He studies geology and German. When I’m not hiking or studying, I’m working at my boring weekend job, where I listen to interesting podcasts and presidential biographies