Navigating a Challenging Ethical, Legal, and Student Service Responsibility: Students Who Injure Themselves

Presented by Paul Grossman, J.D. and Richard Yao, Ph.D.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 20 to 24-year-olds.  This unique collaborative keynote address by Paul Grossman, J.D. and Richard Yao, Ph.D. will cover best legal, prophylactic and therapeutic practices in addressing suicide prevention and self-injurious behaviors on campus.   

Estimates of the number of post-secondary students who commit suicide each year vary. One source puts the total at 1000 students, with many more attempts and numerous more less severe self-injurious acts.  As the percentage of students who are male has decreased so too has the prevalence of suicide.  However, due to a greater presence on campus of students with psychiatric disabilities, an increase in the number of students who report experiencing high levels of anxiety, and the prevalence of suicide among veterans, these numbers are not likely to diminish further.

Suicide is a tragedy for the student, his or her family, and the many other students who are part of the victim’s community. Suicide can be “contagious.”  Unfortunately, the traditional response of many colleges and universities to students who survive a suicide attempt has been long term suspension, generally a year, or permanent dismissal.  This response, frequently taken to avoid future liability to the parents, is often not in the student’s best interest, and is likely to violate disability antidiscrimination laws including the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).   Fortunately, there are lawful ways of reducing the prevalence of suicide on campus, and ways of responding to attempts and other types of self-injurious behaviors that are both lawful and in the student’s best interest. 

Learning Objectives:

1.    Participants will gain insight into the nature, scope and frequency of post-secondary students who engage in self-injurious behavior.

2.     Participants will be able to distinguish between lawful and unlawful responses to students who attempt suicide.

3.    Participants will be able to knowledgeably participate in and support the plans and actions taken by their campuses to address suicide prevention, respond appropriately to students who have survived a suicide attempt, and respond to students presenting with other types of self-injurious behaviors.