Suicide on Campus
Problems that precipitate suicide are usually temporary ones. Problems in romantic relationships, acdemics, and finances are stressful, especially for freshmen. This is one reason why college students are at high risk. Unfortunately, suicide is a permanent solution to these temporary issues.
Although no one can predict with 100% accuracy who will attempt suicide and when, the following signals may indicate a risk of suicide. As a general rule, the more warning signs that are present, the greater the risk of suicidal behavior.
Signs of depression include:
- periods of prolonged sadness that may include frequent crying
- feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and/or worthlessness
- insomnia or excessive sleeping
- significant appetite loss or gain
- decreased interest or pleasure in previously enjoyable activities
- themes of death in artwork, poetry and/or conversation
4 out of 5 people who actually die by suicide have attempted suicide at least once previously.
Any real or perceived loss such as a death, a relationship breakup, loss of status/prestige, or physical impairment.
Alcohol or other drug abuse
If a person cannot resist using a drug or control the amount used, there is a substance abuse problem.
The more specific the plan, the greater the risk.
Giving possessions away
Repeatedly, it has been found that when a person is prevented from completing suicide, he or she is extremely grateful later. With rare exception, a suicidal person is ambivalent about dying. Often, if the pain can be reduced even slightly, the person can find some hope and reconnect with a desire to live. The fewer suicide attempts someone makes, the less likely they are to ultimately die by suicide.
How You Can Help
You might have never directly dealt with a suicidal person. If such a situation presents itself, you might feel uncomfortable, helpless, or even overwhelmed. Despite these feelings, it is very important that you show support to this person: ask them about any suicidal thinking, and refer them to get help. Doing so can be the difference between life and death. Here are some simple steps to follow:
- Directly ask about suicidal intentions
Ask, “Are you thinking about suicide?” You will not increase a person’s risk of suicide by asking her/him directly about it. Studies show that such a question can be a relief to a person who is suicidal. He or she may actually welcome the chance to express painful feelings. Even if the person is not having suicidal thoughts, he/she is likely to appreciate your care and concern for them.
- Tell them that you care
Show that you care, and express it: “I care about you.” “You are important to me.” Also avoid being judgmental or arguing about the moral issues regarding suicide.
- Tell them that help is available and let them know how to seek help
Let the individual know that help is available, help is effective, and that seeking help is the courageous thing to do. You could even offer to accompany them to their first appointment with a doctor or counselor, or could help them schedule the appointment.
- Follow up with the individual you are concerned about
Oftentimes people are uncomfortable talking to a suicidal person a second time because “they don’t want to remind them of their misery,” they “don’t want to make them uncomfortable,” or they figure “if they need to talk to me again, they will.” The fact is that most people in distress feel like a burden to others, and are unlikely to bring this issue up again. It is important to let the individual know that you are still thinking about them and care about them, and, most importantly, it is important that you follow up to insure that they have received help.
- Talk with others.
This is extremely important! 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 family, friends, or appropriate staff members.Do not be bound by secrecy. An angry friend is better than a deceased one.
Four Myths about Suicide
- Myth: People who talk about suicide don’t commit suicide. Fact: Eight out of 10 people who die by suicide have verbalized their intent beforehand.
- Myth: Only certain types of people commit suicide. Fact: All types of people commit suicide: male and female, young and old, rich and poor. It happens in every racial, ethnic, and religious group.
- Myth: When a suicidal person begins to feel better, the danger is over. Fact: Most suicides occur within 90 days following improvement in the person’s mental or emotional state.
- Myth: People who attempt suicide are just trying to get attention. Fact: The vast majority of people who threaten or attempt suicide are really reaching out for help. This in no way diminishes the potential lethality of their actions.
No Time For Goodbyes: Coping with Sorrow, Anger and Injustice After a Tragic Death by Lord Janice Harris (Ventura, Ca.: Pathfinder Publishing, 1988.)
Not With My Life I Don’t: Preventing Your Suicide and That of Others by Howard RosenthalMuncie (IN.: Accelerated Development, 1988.)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (24 hours/day, 7 days/week): 800-273-TALK (8255)
Around-the-clock crisis and suicide prevention helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.