The Student who may be Suicidal

Your responsibilities are not to diagnose or provide therapy; it is the development of a compassionate and forthright conversation that ultimately helps a student in trouble find understanding, support, and the proper therapeutic resources.

Facts about suicide:

Although suicide is a rare event (i.e., 5 to 7 for every 100,000 college students per year), it is the second leading cause of death among college students after vehicle accidents and before alcohol related deaths.

 

Suicidal ideation is often associated with major depression, a combination of acute anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, bipolar disorder and/or intimate relationship issues.

 

People who are suicidal often, but not always, tell people about their thoughts or give clues to others about their feelings.

Some factors associated with suicide risk are:

  • Suicidal thoughts, both passive and active
  • Personal loss/separation
  • Shame and guilt associated with perceived failure
  • Pessimistic view of the future (i.e. uncertainty about academic and/or career path)
  • Feelings of helplessness, especially in addition to anxiety and hopelessness
  • Feelings of alienation and isolation
  • Viewing death as a means of escape from distress
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Personal or family history of depression and/or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Substance abuse
  • Concerns related to development/integration of sexual identity
  • History of self-mutilation or risky behavior

 

Be confident to ask directly about suicide (i.e., “Are you thinking of suicide or Are you thinking of killing or harming yourself”). Asking a student if they are suicidal will not put the idea in their head if it isn’t there already. Rather, it will bring a secret out into the open, which is the first step to a solution. A student who is suicidal and confides in someone is often highly ambivalent about suicide and open to discussion.

 

Students who are at high risk usually have a specific plan, a means that is lethal (e.g., medication, knife, gun), a time frame in which they will kill themselves and tend to be or feel isolated. An individual who is at high risk can sometimes be a threat to others or homicidal.

Think about:

  • Call 911 if the student is in immediate danger to himself or herself.
  • Remain calm and use the student’s name in communication (i.e. “John, I am concerned about you and want to get you help.”)
  • Talk to the student in a relatively private location. You may wish to have another University employee present or within visual or auditory range in case the student’s behavior becomes erratic.
  • Promise them that you will be discrete with the information that they share.
  • Remain calm and take the lead.
  • Take a student’s disclosure as a serious plea for help (“I hear that you are considering killing or hurting yourself to end the pain you are feeling.”).
  • If needed, ask the student directly about feelings and plans (“Are you thinking of killing yourself?” “How have you thought about doing it?”). Not having a plan is a good thing.
  • Express care and concern, and assure the student that you will help him or her reach professional help. (“I believe and trust what you are saying and that you have not gotten to this point easily. I am very concerned for you and want you to believe and trust me now and that seeking help can make a difference.”).
  • If the incident occurs during business hours, call the Counseling Center (904) 620-2602 and then escort the student to the Counseling Center located in Building 2, Founders Hall, Room 2300.
  • After hours, contact the UNF Police Department at (904) 620-2800.
  • Afterwards, document your interaction with this student.
  • All threats must be considered potentially lethal. 

It is vital to seek professional support for the student as soon as possible. Do not minimize the situation, argue with the student, or assume the family knows that the student has problems.