Do you know someone who has been dealing with severe emotional distress? Are you concerned that someone you know may be suicidal?
Sadly, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. The good news is that, with the right assistance, suicidal behaviors can be prevented. The following guide is intended to provide information about suicide, along with suggestions on how to help a distressed or suicidal person seek help.
How do I know if someone is at risk for suicide? The majority of people who attempt suicide have given some warning of their intentions beforehand. Being able to recognize these warning signs is an important first step in preventing suicide. Some of the most common warning signs include:
- Persistently depressed or irritable mood
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Changes in behavior, sleeping patterns, eating patterns
- An increase in high-risk activities
- Loss of interest in personal appearance
- Lack of follow-through on responsibilities
- Increased alcohol/drug use
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Giving away prized possessions
- Direct or indirect references to death/suicide, such as:
- "I can't go on like this"
- “Everyone would be better off without me”
- “If I fail this exam, I’ll kill myself”
- “In another few weeks, none of this will matter.”
- “I just want to get away from everything”
- “I wish I were dead”
I think my friend may be suicidal. How can I help? The two most important things you can do as a friend are to listen and to assist the friend in seeking help for their concerns. The majority of people who commit suicide were suffering from depression or some other serious emotional difficulty at the time of their death. Therefore, an important step in suicide prevention is to get help for the distress that is fueling the suicidal thoughts and impulses.
Some Dos and Don’ts of suicide prevention:
Do ask a friend directly if you suspect they may be suicidal. (“Have you had any thoughts of suicide?”) Doing so will not “give them the idea”; rather, your friend will likely feel relived that you cared enough to ask, and will appreciate the chance to talk about their feelings and concerns.
Do listen supportively and non-judgmentally.
Do encourage your friend to seek additional help. You can offer to help your friend schedule a counseling appointment, or suggest that they call or text a suicide prevention hotline.
Don’t be sworn to secrecy. If your friend is at risk of self-harm and refuses to seek help, you may need to call for help on your friend’s behalf. Breaking a confidence may be difficult, but in some cases is necessary to save a friend’s life.
Don’t try to 'solve' your friend’s problems by yourself. There are professionals available who are trained to help people experiencing suicidal crises.
Do stay with your friend if they are at risk. If you suspect that your friend may be in immediate danger, don’t leave the person alone. Have the friend go with you to call for emergency assistance, or wait until another person can be there to help.
Do take care of yourself. Offering help to a depressed or suicidal friend can be an emotionally draining experience. Be sure to take time for self-care.
What resources are available to help my friend? If a friend has just made a suicide attempt, or is otherwise at immediate risk of self-harm, call for emergency help right away. The most immediate help is available through University Police at (314) 516-5155, or 911.
In most cases, counselors at Counseling Services can see a person the same day for crisis intervention. Our office hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. Click here for more information on what to expect from a crisis counseling appointment. After hours, our phones are answered by trained clinicians, so call 314-516-5711 for assistance anytime.
Another helpful resource after hours and on weekends is Life Crisis Services, which operates a 24 hour hotline for immediate local crisis assistance. Their number is (314) 647-HELP (4357).
How can I encourage my friend to seek help?
- Be direct, supportive, and non-judgmental when talking to your friend.
- Remind the friend of your concern for their well-being.
- Point out the changes and other behaviors you’ve noticed that have led you to worry about your friend.
- Recommend that the friend seek help, inform your friend of the resources that are available, and offer to help the friend with accessing those resources.
- Follow up with your friend to ask how they’re doing and if they’ve followed through on seeking help.
If you have questions about any of the information listed above, or would like to consult with a counselor about a friend in distress, feel free to call (516-5711) or stop by Counseling Services (131 Millennium Student Center).
We encourage all students to partake in the 20 minute Ask, Listen, Refer training to help them feel confident about noticing and intervening when a friend is feeling suicidal. Further resources are available here.