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University Counseling Center

The Suicidal Student

Although suicide is a rare event, it is the second leading cause of death among college students. People who are suicidal often tell people about their thoughts or give clues to others about their feelings. It is important to view all suicidal comments or behavior as serious and make appropriate referrals. Suicidal states are often associated with major depression, a combination of acute anxiety and depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder. High risk indicators include: feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and futility; a significant loss or threat of loss; a suicide plan; a history of a previous attempt or knowledge of someone who has attempted suicide; history of alcohol or drug abuse; feelings of alienation and isolation; and preoccupation with death.

Some factors associated with suicide risk are:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Pessimistic view of the future
  • Intense feelings of hopelessness, especially when combined with anxiety/feelings of alienation and isolation
  • Viewing death as a means of escape from distress
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Personal or family history of depression or suicide
  • Personal or family history of suicide attempts
  • Substance abuse
  • History of self-mutilation
  • Don’t be afraid to ask about suicide. Asking a student if he/she is suicidal will not put the idea in their head if it isn’t there already.

A student who is suicidal and who confides in someone is often ambivalent about suicide and open to discussion.

Students who are at high risk usually have a specific plan, have a means that is lethal (e.g., medication, knife, gun), and tend to be or feel isolated.

What You Can Do:

  • Call 911 if the student is in immediate danger to him/herself.
  • Talk to the student in private.
  • Remain calm and take the lead.
  • Take the student seriously — 80% of suicides give warning of their intent
  • Be direct — ask if the student is suicidal, if she/he has a plan and if she/he has the means to carry out that plan. Exploring this with the student may actually decrease the impulse to commit suicide,
  • Express care and concern. Be available to listen, but refer the student to the Counseling Center for additional help. Do your best to make sure the student actually receives help.
  • Take care of yourself. Allow yourself to receive support from those close to you or those trained to provide it. Suicide intervention is demanding and draining work.


  • Minimizing the situation. All threats must be considered potentially lethal.
  • Leaving the student alone if she /he has a plan
  • Being afraid of planting the idea of suicide in an already depressed mind by inquiring about it (the person will very likely feel relieved that someone has noticed and cared enough to discuss it with him/her).
  • Over committing yourself. Doing so may leave you eventually feeling overwhelmed or unable to deliver on what you promised
  • Ignoring your limitations
  • Allowing friends to assume responsibility for the student without getting input from a professional.
  • Assuming the family knows that the student has suicidal thoughts.

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