- Withdrawal from friends, family, society
- Engaging in risky or reckless behavior
- Increased substance use (alcohol or drugs)
- Change in eating pattern (loss of or increased appetite)
- Change in sleep pattern (insomnia or oversleeping)
- Change in academic performance (failing grades, missing classes, etc.)
- History of past suicide attempts
- Loss of friend or family member to suicide
- Recent rejections, failures or losses (ending of a romantic relationship, lower grades than expected, family problems)
Direct Suicide Comments and Behaviors
- Talking about suicide either in a direct manner, “I’m thinking about killing myself," or in a vague way, “It would be better for everyone if I wasn’t a problem.”
- Developing a plan or obtaining means to commit suicide (buying a firearm, collecting pills)
Moods and Feelings
How You Can Help: Steps for Reducing the Risk of Suicide
Step One: Remain calm, stay open and listen
- Work to remain calm. It is normal for the topic of suicide to evoke anxiety and apprehension, even in experienced mental health counselors. It may help to remember that you are responsible for the process (e.g., assisting the student in seeking help from a professional), not the outcome (e.g., solving the student's problems).
- Be a good listener. Listening to the student is more important than coming up with the "right thing" to say. Check out your understanding of what the student is saying. You might say something like, "Let me see if I understand . . ." and then paraphrase for the person what you've heard them say to you.
- Be non-judgmental. It is typically not helpful to debate whether suicide is right or wrong, moral or immoral, or to lecture the person on the value of life. Remember, your primary goal is to have the person openly share thoughts and feelings with you so that you can better understand his or her situation and secure needed help.
- State directly that you care about the person. You might say to the person, "I'm concerned about you ... about how you feel" or "You mean a lot to me, and I want to help" or "I'm on your side ... we'll get through this together."
Step Two: Ask frankly about suicide
- Ask "Has it gotten so bad that you thought about suicide/killing yourself?" It is important that you ask calmly and directly about suicide. Your frankness will communicate to the person that you care and that it is safe to talk about this "taboo" subject with you and demonstrate that while this topic may be scary for you to discuss you’re willing to go there with them.
- Ask follow-up questions, such as: "What was your plan for how you would kill yourself?," "Do you have access to what you would need to carry out your plan?," "Have you ever tried to hurt or kill yourself in the past?," and "Are you able to see things getting better in the future?"
- The risk of suicide increases if the person (1) has a specific plan and the means to carry it out, (2) has made past suicide attempts, and (3) feels helpless and hopeless about the future.
- Do not fall into the "confidentiality trap." Once you believe that a student is at risk of committing suicide, you must never agree to keep this information secret or confidential. The student may say, "You're making this worse than it already is," but despite any protest by the student, you must relay information about the situation to the Counseling Center, HU Security, Residence Life or some other responsible professional party. One helpful strategy is to point out the bind in which the suicidal student is placing you. You might say, "On one hand, you're expressing these serious desires to end your life, and on the other hand, you're basically asking me to ignore what you're telling me. Do you see the bind that puts me in? If you were in my situation, what would you do?" Whatever you do, do not keep a secret that may cost a life.
- If the person refuses to seek help, contact the Counseling Center, HU Security or Residence Life. If all else fails, you may have to take a more assertive, even authoritarian approach. You might say something like, "When a person tells me things like you have today, I feel obligated as someone who cares about you to do all that I can to stop you from hurting yourself." If the situation occurs during a weekday, you should call or come to the Stoner Health Center and ask for assistance. After normal working hours and on weekends, you should contact Heidelberg University Security Office.
Step Three: Refer the student to the University Counseling Center 419-448-2041
- Your goal now is to get them into the hands of a mental health professional. For most students, the best initial referral option is the Counseling Center. Located at Stoner Health Center in Campus Center, the Counseling Center provides a variety of free, confidential services to assist a suicidal student and others who are concerned about him or her.
- You might say something like "Let's talk to someone who can help you feel better . . . Let's get in touch with the folks at the Counseling Center right now."
- Remember, your role is not to take on the person's problems or to provide counseling. Your primary goal should be to get the suicidal person into the care of the mental health specialists in the Counseling Center. Here's how:
- Call the Stoner Health Center at 419-448-2041 between 7:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m., Monday-Friday. When you call the Counseling Center, the support staff will identify a staff member to work with the student.
- After 3:15 p.m., during weekends, or when there is imminent danger, call the Heidelberg University Security Office at 419-448-2211. The dispatcher will gather information about the situation and, if necessary, contact the Residence Life Office or dean of students.
- The Heidelberg University Security Office should also be your first call when there is imminent risk of harm to the person for example if he or she is intoxicated, violent or unconscious.
- Do not leave the person alone. HU faculty, staff and students often escort students in crisis to the Counseling Center to provide comfort and reassurance, and this type of support is critical with acutely suicidal students. It is also important to remove firearms, drugs, sharp objects and anything else that could be used in an impulsive suicide attempt. However, if you feel in danger of being harmed by the person, leave the area and call the Heidelberg University Security Office or 911.
- Let the individual know that Counseling Center services are free and confidential. Suicidal students are often concerned about the cost of receiving crisis services and, even more commonly, about who will know about their situation.
- Remind the individual that the decision to seek help is a courageous, mature choice. Because of the stigma that is still associated with mental health issues, people often mistakenly see going to counseling as a sign of weakness. To counter this belief, frame the decision to seek counseling as a mature choice which suggests that the person is not running away from their problems.
Step Four: Follow ip with the person after the appointment
- The counseling process is often most difficult at the very beginning, particularly for suicidal students in crisis, and your follow up support may help to get the person over this initial hurdle.
Do's and Dont's
- Don't debate the person about the right to die. In your effort to be helpful, don't argue with a student to try to convince him or her that suicide is wrong, immoral or illegal. Because suicidal people frequently feel out of control in many important areas of their lives, they will often vigorously defend their perceived right to remain in control of whether or not they will continue living. Once the student feels that he or she can retain this power, they will often be more open to considering other alternatives.
- Don't make statements that blame the student or dismiss the pain he or she feels. For example, in an effort to "snap" the person out of being suicidal, you may be tempted to say things like "You're just feeling sorry for yourself" or "Other people have a lot more to worry about than you do." These kinds of statements are likely to cause the person to shut down and withdraw.
- Work to frame suicide as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Remind the person that crises and problems are almost always temporary. Problems are solved, feelings change and unexpected positive events occur.
- Offer alternative solutions. The intense emotional pain they're feeling frequently blinds suicidal students to alternative solutions to their problems. Alternatives include going to counseling, taking medication to reduce the acute distress the person is experiencing and engaging in spiritual/religious practices.
- Explore and reinforce the person's reasons for living. Reasons for living can help sustain a person in pain. Victor Frankl, a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, noted that a person who has "a why" (a reason for his or her life) can live with almost any "how." Family ties, love of art or nature, religion, pets and dreams for the future are just a few of the many aspects of life that provide meaning and gratification but which can be obscured by the emotional pain of a suicidal person.
Facts About Suicide
- Suicide is preventable.
- Believed to be the second leading cause of death for college students (due to the lower rate of homicide in college population).
- Nearly 80 percent of college students who die by suicide never participate in counseling services.
- Nearly 1,100 suicides are projected to occur on college campuses this year.
- 18-24 year olds think about suicide more often than any other age group.
- One in 12 U.S. college students has made a suicide plan.
- The National College Health Risk Behavior Study found that 11.4 percent of students seriously consider attempting suicide.
- In 1998, suicide killed more young adults than AIDS, cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, birth defects, stroke, influenza and chronic lung disease combined.
- The suicide rate for 15–24 year olds increased by over 200 percent in the last 50 years.
- Third leading cause of death for youth between 15 and 24 following accidental injury and homicide.
- About 12 young people aged 15-24 will commit suicide today.
- One person under the age of 25 commits suicide within every two hours and two and a half minutes.
What if it's me?
If you’re reading this, perhaps something is not going the way you had planned in your life (failing grades, end of a romantic relationship, feeling scared or lonely).
Maybe you’re in so much emotional or psychological pain that you don’t know if you can handle it anymore? However, the fact that you are reading this means that one part of you does not want to die – even though it may feel like only a tiny bit of hope – there’s still hope and we can help you.
First, you’re not so alone. Many people at one time or another in their lives will think about suicide. Thinking about killing yourself when you feel down is actually not such an abnormal thought. You’re experiencing thoughts (e.g. I’m no good, Nothing goes right for me, etc.) or feelings (anger, sadness, rage, despair) that are so intense that they are beyond your ability to deal with them. These thoughts and feelings are not dangerous, but acting upon them is.
Second, when we’re in intense emotional or psychological pain and feeling very discouraged, it’s likely our thoughts will begin to focus on absolutes or extremes. For example, you might think “Nothing ever goes right for me” or “Nothing will ever change for me.” Further, you might find yourself thinking that maybe you’re on a losing streak and that things will always be the same or never change. Lastly, you might even feel angry or enraged about the direction of your life. Try not to panic even though you’re feeling so discouraged or angry. These are the types of thoughts and/or feelings a person experiences when they’re not able to move toward goals (e.g. having academic success, or finding/keeping a romantic relationship).
Essentially, your emotional pain is exceeding your coping ability. This pain might feel quite permanent and unchangeable. When we’re feeling so hopeless and thinking we’re helpless, we’re unable to see any other options (we experience a type of tunnel vision). However, we have very good evidence that tells us that if we are able to ask for help (yes, simply letting others know you’re overwhelmed) is comforting and can help you think of other options. So, the bottom line is please reach out and contact us.