Suicide Prevention

The college years are a time of great growth and development. College years are also a time of stress. At the same time a student is assuming many of the responsibilities of adulthood, the support structures that sustained the student through childhood may be less available. The college age group is the period when several mental illnesses first appear, including major depression. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among people age 15-24 (after accidents and homicides). The risk is actually somewhat lower for people in this age group who are attending college than for those who are not attending college.

Most college students who commit suicide are suffering from depression -- diagnosed or not. Therefore, by detecting depression as soon as possible and by providing support and treatment, we can greatly reduce the likelihood of suicide among college students. The following information is intended to help the campus community recognize warning signs and to suggest how to help.

Behavioral Signs of Suicide Risk

A person might be at risk for suicide if showing any of the following signs:

  • Talks about committing suicide
  • Has trouble eating or sleeping
  • Experiences drastic changes in behavior
  • Withdraws from friends and/or social activities
  • Loses interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
  • Prepares for death by making out a will and final arrangements
  • Gives away prized possessions
  • Has attempted suicide before
  • Takes unnecessary risks
  • Has had recent severe losses
  • Is preoccupied with death and dying
  • Loses interest in personal appearance
  • Increases use of alcohol or drugs

Comments Made by Someone Considering Suicide

Research shows that most (70%) of people who commit suicide have given warnings to others in some form. Warnings might include statements like:

  • Sometimes I wish I were dead.
  • People would be better off without me.
  • Would you like to have my [valuable possession]? I won't be needing it.
  • I'm not sure life is worth living.
  • Hopefully I won't be around to find out ...
  • You [or boyfriend or girlfriend or family] will be sorry when I'm gone.
  • I've lost hope.
  • You can't understand how I feel.
  • Nobody can possibly understand how upset I am.
  • I can't imagine ever feeling better.

How to Help

Many students have never directly dealt with a suicidal person. When such a situation occurs, it is not unusual for you to feel helpless and overwhelmed. The following guidelines are presented to provide direction and to facilitate the helping process. Never deal with a suicidal person alone. Always reach out for assistance.

  1. Talk openly about what you observe in your friend's condition. For example, "You've seemed really down lately; is something bothering you?"
  2. Listen . We often undervalue the power of active listening. Help the individual feel understood by rephrasing words and feelings. For example, "It seems like you are feeling/saying..."
  3. Be direct when addressing suicidal intentions. Ask, "Are you thinking about suicide?" If the person is suicidal, such a questions can be a relief as he/she may actually welcome the chance to express painful feelings. If the person is not suicidal, you have expressed care and concern.
  4. Be supportive. Show that you care by telling them, "I care about you," "You are important to me," "I'd like to find a way to help." Convey the message that suicidal feelings are temporary, that depression can be treated and that problems can be solved.
  5. Do not judge, lecture, or argue about the moral issues regarding suicide. Avoid the temptation to say, "You have so much to live for," or "Your suicide will hurt your family."
  6. Evaluate the immediate risk. If the person is experiencing suicidal thoughts, ask direct questions about the next three predictors of immediate risk:
    1. The presence of a suicide plan (e.g., place and method)
    2. Possession of means for suicide (e.g., pills, knife, gun, nearby bridge or high place)
    3. A time schedule
  7. Specifically ask : "Do you have a plan?" "Do you have the means?" "When do you plan to kill yourself?" With the presence of each progressive predictor, the chance of immediate harm increase.
  8. Never leave a person alone who has a secured means for suicide . An added note: Protect yourself. If the person is armed, leave the premises and call the police.
  9. Reach out to others . Do not allow yourself to be the only one helping a suicidal person. Recognize the limits of your expertise and responsibility. Share your concerns with appropriate staff members. Do not be bound by secrecy.
  10. Be actively involved in encouraging the person to see a mental health professional immediately. Individuals contemplating suicide often don't believe they can be helped, so you may have to do more. For example, it can sometimes be helpful to offer to accompany an individual to the Student Counseling Center or sit with them while they make the first phone call for help.
  11. In an acute crisis: Take your friend to an emergency room or call 911. Do not leave them alone until help is available. Remove from the vicinity any firearms, drugs, or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
  12. Get help. Contact your RA or VA, a security officer or a Residence Life staff member. If it's during the time that the Student Counseling Center is open, you can call ext. 5730 or ext. 3131 to speak with a counselor. Most students in need will be grateful and you will sleep better.

If you are feeling suicidal

Recognize that you are suffering from a treatable illness. Suicide is a permanent, irrevocable solution to a temporary problem. Talk to someone right away. Seek help from one of the counselors, a friend, a professor, an RA, an advisor, a coach or anyone else you know.

The Student Counseling Center

If you have any questions regarding the information contained in this section or are concerned about another student or yourself, please don't hesitate to contact one of the counselors. The Student Counseling Center offers a wide range of information on mental health and substance use issues and provides caring, confidential help from professionals experienced in helping students deal with those issues.

Bill Brown can be reached at 455-5730 and Crista Gambrell can be reached at 455-3131

Please note: Ideas and information in this section were adapted from the Villanova University website.