RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Over the past five years, North Carolina State University has averaged eight student deaths a year. Those deaths include natural causes, accidents and suicide.

The university has already experienced eight student deaths so far this school year — including five by suicide. It’s above NC State’s typical average of three student deaths by suicide per year.

In response, the university commissioned a Student Mental Health Task Force to dive deeper into mental health issues and recommend actions to support students.

They said NC State was not alone in its student mental health concerns.

They said the National College Health Assessment conducted by American College Health Association in 2022, showed that half of all university students regularly experienced moderate psychological distress with more than a quarter of them presenting a high suicide screening score.

Overarching recommendations

The task force made four overarching recommendations:

  • Integrating campus-level diversity, equity, inclusion and mental health planning
    to ensure fostering a sense of belonging for all students, especially those in
    underserved populations.
  • Forming implementation teams immediately to continue the work begun by the
    Task Force. These teams would be charged with researching, evaluating and potentially
    implementing the recommendations.
  • Continually assess the effectiveness of existing services and programs designed to address student mental health and any new initiatives created through this process. Data gathered through assessments will be used to drive evidence-based decision-making to inform and improve policies, programs, services and all efforts to support student mental health.
  • Continuing to find ways to increase awareness of current mental health and wellness resources and continue to provide ongoing communications that encourage healthy behaviors, mental health and overall well-being.
  • Continuing to engage the campus community in the ongoing conversation
    regarding student mental health.

Specific recommendations

NC State also made more specific recommendations after surveying students themselves.

One of those suggestions is addressing and supporting food-insecure and low-income students.

In an online survey, one student said, “We are food insecure. We are housing insecure. Graduate student income is below the poverty line. Even the university housing is more than half of our monthly stipend. How are we supposed to be mentally healthy under these conditions?”

Another graduate student echoed those concerns saying more financial support was needed to allow students to enjoy life outside of the classroom, “When TAs and RAs have lives, our mental health improves, and we produce better scholarship and are better able to support each other and undergrad students.”

While the university has offered Wellness Days to give students a day to focus on themselves, the task force said some students faculty did not respect the intention of a Wellness Day.

“Instead of a day of focusing on yourself, most students are just catching up on work. In addition, assignments or tests due around that time are just pushed back to days where other big assignments/tests are scheduled,” an undergraduate student said in an online survey.

The Task Force recommended requiring no exams or assignments be due on the Wellness Day or the day following it.

Overall, the Task Force said they found NC State was dedicated to supporting students and had significant resources in place to do so, but more work was needed.

“…There is not only room for, but also a need for, additional efforts. Although we
recognize that implementing every recommendation may not be possible, we are confident that we can significantly impact student mental health at NC State,” the task force said.

You can read the entire findings here.