Two North Carolina State University students died apparently by suicide within 24 hours, the university announced Thursday, bringing the total number of student suicides there this academic year to seven.
One death was discovered Wednesday night, when campus police were searching for a student who had messaged someone that he intended to end his life, university spokesperson Lauren Barker said. The student’s body was found in the woods near Lake Raleigh.
As students processed news of his death, a second death was reported Thursday afternoon. Barker disclosed few details about the second student, saying in an email only, "Since we spoke, another student was found dead by apparent suicide on campus today."
In total, 14 North Carolina State students have died by various causes since August, Barker said.
In a statement to students Thursday afternoon, university Chancellor Randy Woodson called the developments "heartbreaking."
"Please take extra care of yourselves, keep an eye out for each other and be on the lookout for those around you who might need help. Don’t be afraid to intervene if you think a friend is struggling, and please don’t feel ashamed if you’re struggling," he wrote, directing students to resources, including the university counseling center and a free teletherapy service.
"No matter what you’re going through, know that you are not alone; your NC State family cares about you, and we are here to support you," he added.
"No matter what you’re going through, know that you are not alone; your NC State family cares about you, and we are here to support you."
North Carolina State Chancellor Randy Woodson
The losses have created a sense of uneasiness on campus, where students are studying for final exams, senior Lilly Wallace said.
“It’s pretty overwhelming, to be honest. It feels like this is almost constant at this point,” Wallace, 20, said Thursday, referring to the first death. “It feels very helpless.”
After having learned of the second death, Wallace said: "It’s hard to put into words just how devastating this is."
In October, Wallace created a petition proposing that the university routinely offer mental health wellness days during the academic year so students could have breaks from the pressures of schoolwork.
“The school says we have all these mental health resources for students to use, but if you don’t have actual time off to breathe and check in with yourself and say, ‘I might need help, I’m struggling a lot more than I realized I was,’ you might not ever use those resources,” Wallace said.
The petition, which has received more than 4,800 signatures, also suggested that the university bar professors from giving assignments over school breaks.
“Some professors will still assign assignments over those breaks, or we’ll have quizzes or tests after, so it’s not really a break at that point,” she said.
The university recently began scheduling student wellness days, according to a report from a student mental health task force that convened in the fall with the aim of preventing suicides.
But Wallace said students still feel more should be done.
North Carolina State, which has more than 36,000 undergraduate and graduate students, had an unusually high number of suicides this year even before the deaths in the last 24 hours. It typically averages three student deaths by suicide a year, according to the task force.
In March, a few weeks after the fifth student suicide of the school year, the vice chancellor and dean of academic and student affairs, Doneka Scott, said North Carolina State was implementing recommendations from the task force, including working with The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit group that partners with schools to strengthen their mental health support programs.
Scott also said that in recent years, the university has drastically increased staffing at its counseling center and added other mental health positions.
Mental health challenges are rising across the country. A national survey published last month found that college students are experiencing all-time high rates of depression, anxiety and suicidality.
Scott said she believes the pandemic and social and political divisions in the U.S. have contributed to college students' distress.
"This has been a difficult, difficult time,” Scott said in March. "As institutions of higher education, we have to continue to examine and invest in ways that effectively support our students in their growing mental health needs."
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.