Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. A suicidal person may not ask for help, but that doesn’t mean that help isn’t wanted. Suicide may result from distorted rational thinking and decision-making, not from a lack of character or moral weakness. Suicidal persons tend to give clues to those around them. Approximately 80% of people who have attempted suicide discussed their intent to do so with someone around them.
The initiation of a suicidal event is likely to be triggered by a major life stressor and/or loss or threat of loss such as:Death of family/friendEnd of a significant relationshipBeing academically dismissed from school
Some of the high risk indicators of suicidal intent are suicidal thoughts; a negative perception of life; intense feelings of hopelessness and futility, particularly if accompanied by anxiety; feelings of alienation and isolation; the idea that death is an agent for the cessation of distress; a personal and/or family history of depression; a personal and/or family history of previous attempts; a history of substance abuse; and/or a history of self-damaging acts. The suicidal student who alerts someone is often intensely ambivalent about killing him/herself and usually is open to discussing his or her suicidal concerns with someone.
Students who talk about or write a lot about death and dying, have a specific plan for killing themselves; have a means (such as medication, knives, or a gun); abuse alcohol and other substances; and tend to be socially isolated are considered at greater risk to make a lethal suicide attempt.
Imminent danger signs include highly disruptive behavior (hostility, aggression); inability to communicate clearly (disjointed thoughts, slurred speech; loss of contact with reality (seeing/hearing things that are not there, beliefs or actions at odds with reality); overt suicidal thoughts and gestures (suicide is a current option); homicidal threats. In such cases, call Campus Police at 422-2222 from campus, and inform Counseling Services or Student Health, and then a supervisor or department head.
When you suspect a student is suicidal:
- When possible, see the student in private.
- Remain calm and in control of the situation.
- Be direct—ask if the student is suicidal, if she/he has a plan and if she/he has the means to carry out this plan. This exploration may actually decrease the impulse to commit suicide (at least temporarily as it relieves the pressure).
- Take the student seriously and acknowledge that the threat is a serious plea for help.
- Listen to the student and respond with concern and care.
- Reassure the student that you will help him/her reach a psychologist or psychiatrist.
- When possible, accompany the student to Counseling and Psychological Services (1500 WSC) or Student Health. The student can be seen by a psychologist at Counseling Services during working hours (M-F 8:00 -5:00). If you feel uncomfortable with the student, or if you are unable to accompany the student to one of these services, please contact Counseling and Psychological Services (422-3035) or Student Health Services (422-2771) for consultation.
- If the student is in immediate danger, call Campus Police at 422-2222 or 911.
- If it is after hours and the student is not in immediate danger, encourage the student to talk with a licensed counselor by phone. The counselor can be reached by calling Campus Police (422-2222).
- Seek consultation by calling Counseling and Psychological Services (422-3035) or another mental health resource even if the student is not willing to go to counseling.
- Minimize the situation or sound shocked by what they tell you. All threats need to be handled as potentially lethal.
- Argue with the student about the merits of living or moral aspects of suicide.
- Be afraid to ask the student about his/her intent and/or plans of suicide.
- Agree to be bound by confidentiality.
- Over commit yourself and not be able to deliver what you promised.
- Allow the student’s friends to take care of the student without getting a professional opinion.
Other Resources/Suggested Reading:
The Happiness Trap
The Illustrated Happiness Trap