By Beth Khalifa

Arizona Summer Wildcat

The college years are often referred to as "the best years of your life."

But tragically, they can also be the worst years of your life. And balancing the pressures of grades, personal expectations and a social life can often prove to be the hardest test any student can take.

Questions remain regarding the death of Andrew Hedberg, 21, an undeclared freshman at the UA, who died last Saturday after falling from the fourth-story stairwell of the Life Sciences South building on campus.

Hedberg's death, which the UA Police Department is treating as a suicide, means he has followed in the footsteps of many of his peers; over 4,800 suicides were committed last year by people between the ages of 15 and 24, according to a recent government study.

And experts at the UA say that college life can be too much for some students, who look for drastic measures to end their suffering.

"I can't even tell you how often I get students who come in here and say, 'I don't even want to be here (at college), but I know I have to be here,'" said Daniel Macias, a counselor at the UA's Student Health Service.

He said pressure on students comes from classes, peers, professors, parents and anyone expecting a student to do better.

Macias said a lot of the students he sees do not get sufficient emotional support.

"They're kind of thrown here and told, 'okay, you know what you're supposed to do, now do it,'" he said.

He said life is especially difficult for college students because they are at such an impressionable age.

"How their peers treat them and how others see them is, I would say, 70 percent of the way they see themselves," Macias said. "If those perceptions are positive, that builds self-esteem, it builds self-confidence and the world seems brighter," he said.

For many, a poor self-perception may lead to feelings of rejection and isolation which translates into a higher ratio of suicide attempts among teenage and college-age people. Suicide remains the third-leading cause of death for Americans between 15 and 24 years of age, according to that same government study.

Macias said it should not matter if the motive of an individual attempting suicide is to get attention because suicide attempts are cries for help.

"The very fact that someone is willing to attempt or threaten suicide is lethal enough a gesture to literally walk him over to a counseling center where he can actually deal with whatever it is that's causing him to behave that way," Macias said. But he drew a distinction between those who are suicidal and those who are adventurous risk-takers.

"Most people who are suicidal are scared to death," Macias said. "What they are afraid of is not being validated by the rest of the world, by people around them."

Macias said explanations of suicide are mere speculation, but doctors will study family history for depression, violence and bizarre behavior.

For college students in particular, depression stems from family and peer relations experienced at the high school level.

"The pressures, demands and stress that students encounter on a university level only compounds things that he or she was unable to deal with to begin with," Macias said. ~mid~ What it comes down to, he said, is an inability for the individual to cope.

"Individuals have a lot of responsibilities for themselves," he said. "Upbringing may be a factor, but rather than generalize, it is better to study the specific case of how the individual brought himself to the point of being suicidal."

Tucson Medical Center literature lists suicidal signs as including expressions of hopelessness, reckless behavior, changes in sleeping and eating patterns and giving away possessions. These signs may be accompanied by alcohol or drug abuse and depression.

But there is hope. A local suicide-prevention hotline and the Help on Call Crisis Line provide 24-hour services and counselors are available at the UA's Counseling and Psychological Services department.

Melissa Vito, UA dean of students, said the rate of suicide at the UA has been low, but that one incident is enough to get people's attention.

She said peer advising is available for undergraduates at the individual colleges, as well as assistance for drug and alcohol abuse at the Student Health Center.

She also said the Career Services Center is helpful for those seeking direction on a professional level.

But Macias emphasized that while most suicide attempts are preventable, individuals who really want to commit suicide do not want to be helped and cannot be prevented from following through with the act.

"If somebody really wanted to die and thought there was no other way to find resolution, there's nothing anybody can do to prevent that," he said. Read Next Article