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.
Guide Table of Content
- Typical Concerns for UR Students
- What You Should Know About Student Problems
- Symptoms of Distressed or Distressing Students
- Responding to Distressed or Distressing Students
- Making a Referral to the UR Counseling Center
- Responding to Student Emergencies
- The UR Counseling Center
- Information About Confidentiality
- Mandated Risk Assessment
- Other Campus Referral Sources
- Academic Faculty: Classroom Climate and Prevention
- Responding After a Tragedy: An In-The-Classroom Guide
- The Grieving Student
- The Anxious/Shy Student
- The Student Who May Have an Eating Disorder
- The Demanding Student
- The Dependent/Passive Student
- The Depressed Student
- The Student in Poor Contact with Reality
- The Student Suspected of Substance Abuse or Addiction
- The Victim of Stalking
- The Victim of an Abusive Dating Relationship
- The Victim of a Hate Incident
- The Victim of Hazing
- The Student Who Has Been Sexually Harassed (Assaulted)
- The Suicidal Student
- The Suspicious Student
- The Verbally Aggressive Student
- The Violent Student
- The Absent/Disappeared From Class Student
- Responding to Students with Transition Issues
- Responding to the Student with Choice of Major or Career Concerns