Recognize Warning Signs
Most people experiencing suicidal thoughts will show outward signs of distress. These signs will vary from person to person, and some individuals might not show any signs at all. Recognizing these common warning signs could help identify a person in need. Take any suicidal talk or behavior seriously. It’s not just a warning sign that the person is thinking about suicide — it’s a cry for help.
These signals are even more dangerous if the person has a mood disorder, suffers from alcohol dependence, has previously attempted suicide, or has a family history of suicide. If you notice a student exhibiting these signs, reach out and offer support. If the student makes suicidal or homicidal references, contact a mental health professional or call 911 immediately.
- Excessive absences or tardiness
- Repeated requests for special consideration
- Disruptive or avoidant behavior
- Exaggerated emotional response that is inappropriate for the situation
- Problems with peers, faculty, staff, or family members
Changes in Behavior/Appearance
- Depressed or lethargic mood
- Hyperactive mood or speech
- Changes in appearance (such as weight gain/loss), personal hygiene, or dress
- Strange behavior indicating a loss of contact with reality
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Verbal or written references to suicide or death
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- Suicidal and/or homicidal threats
- Seeking out things that could be used in a suicide attempt, such as weapons and drugs
Respond to a Student in Need
Responding to someone in distress can be intimidating but it is important. Do not ignore warning signs because you are unsure of what to do; taking action is always the best choice. Giving a suicidal person the opportunity to talk can provide relief and may prevent a suicide attempt. Remember, it’s not about saying exactly the right words. Show that you care, demonstrate that you’re available to listen, and be there to support them.
Tips for responding
Speak with the individual in a private, comfortable place.
Express concern openly and honestly. Think of specific behavior examples that caused concern.
Listen to their feelings without judgment. Do not lecture about the value of life, or minimize problems. Avoid saying things like: “You have so much to live for,” “Your suicide will hurt your family,” or “Look on the bright side.”
Offer hope. Reassure the person that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Let the person know that his or her life is important to you.
Be direct. Talk openly and directly about suicide. Many people believe that talking about suicide will put the idea in someone’s head. Research shows this is not true. Asking directly shows that you are ready to listen to their feelings and support them through anything.
Do not be sworn to secrecy. You need to feel comfortable reaching out for help if necessary. Feel free to consult with the UHS Mental Health Crisis Line, and if your friend is in immediate danger call 911 or get them to the nearest emergency room.
Ways to start the conversation
- I have been concerned about you lately.
- Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.
- I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.
Questions you can ask
- When did you begin feeling like this?
- How can I best support you right now?
- Have you thought about getting help?
- Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?
- Are you/have you been thinking about suicide?
What you can say that helps
- You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
- You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
- I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
- You are important to me. Your life is important to me.
- I am here for you. We’ll get through this together.
What you can say that hurts
- It’s all in your head. You’ll be fine – stop worrying.
- We all go through times like this.
- You have so much to live for – why would you want to die?
- Snap out of it. Look on the bright side.
- Here’s my advice…
If you’re unsure how to respond or need support, contact the UHS Mental Health Crisis Line at 608-265-5600 (option 9). They can provide consultations for those who are concerned about the mental health of a student. The Dean of Students Office can also consult and assist with situations involving students who may be struggling. Call 608-263-5700 and ask for the on-call dean.
Refer a student to resources
- Get help together. Offer to accompany the student in distress to the counseling center, call a crisis line with them, or make them an appointment.
- Do not attempt to trick or manipulate someone into counseling. Except in dangerous emergencies, the decision whether or not to accept a referral to counseling is the individual’s.
- Never leave a suicidal person alone. Remove any means that the student could use to harm themselves or others such as weapons or medications.
- Be familiar with available resources.
- Do not be afraid to ask for help. If you are ever unsure what to do, call
UHS 24-hour Crisis Line: 608-265-5600 (option 9)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
The resources you offer a student may depend on their risk level. The chart below can help you determine what action might be most appropriate.