Faculty, staff, and teaching assistants can play a role in preventing suicide and promoting help-seeking behaviors on campus. Taking steps to prevent student suicide can look different in different circumstances. Here, we provide information for a variety of roles you may find yourself in, such as responding to a distressed student, talking about suicide or mental health in the classroom, or seeking support for yourself or a colleague.
There are more resources available at UHS. If you’re concerned for a student, or otherwise in need of support, call our 24-hour mental health crisis line at 608-265-5600 (option 9) to consult with a counselor.
Help a student
Anytime you are concerned for a student, it’s important to consider that concern valid, and offer support as you can. Visit our Recognize, Respond, Refer page for information on how to recognize when a student is in need of support, respond to them offering initial support, and then refer them to additional resources. We recognize this can look different depending on your role and the cause for your concern. If you need additional guidance, consider using one of the resources below for further support.
Still unsure what to do?
- Call the 24-hour UHS Crisis Line at 608-265-5600 (option 9) for consultation
- Visit the Dean of Students page for more information about Students of Concern
Mental health syllabus statement
One way to support campus suicide prevention efforts is to include a brief statement on course syllabi. This helps promote help-seeking behaviors and demonstrates that instructors care about student well-being. It’s important to remind students that resources are available, and UW-Madison supports those who reach out for help.
“As a student you may experience a range of issues that can cause barriers to learning. These might include strained relationships, anxiety, high levels of stress, alcohol/drug problems, feeling down, or loss of motivation. University Health Services is here to help with these or other issues you may experience. Free, confidential mental health services available on campus can be accessed at 608-265-5600 or uhs.wisc.edu. Help is always available.”
While sometimes difficult to do, it is important that you realize the limits of your own responsibility when assisting distressed students. If you are involved in an intervention with a student, it does not mean you must immediately resolve the student’s difficulties or that you are responsible for the student’s emotional well-being.
Responding to distressed students can be emotionally challenging. It is important to obtain support for yourself from colleagues, partners, friends, or consultation with the Employee Assistance Office (EAO).
The EAO offers counseling and consultation at no cost to UW-Madison faculty, staff, graduate student employees, significant others, and family members.
Students may implicitly or explicitly express mental health struggles through email–ranging from stress to suicidal ideation or plans. If you receive such a message, it is important to send a sincere, compassionate, and informative reply that is appropriate for your relationship with the student and the level of distress expressed in the email. If the student is at risk for self- or other harm, forward the email to the Dean of Student’s Office. For information on assessing suicide risk, consult with UHS mental health staff at 608-265-5600 (option 2 during business hours, option 9 for crisis consultation).
Sample email responses:
This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.
I received your message and I’m deeply concerned about you. Please come to my office, call, or email me so I can be sure you are okay. I have contacted the Dean of Students Office and UHS so they can assist us both with making sure you are safe. Please note that the UHS mental health crisis line is available 24/7 at 608-265-5600 (option 9).
I am so sorry that you are struggling with such serious issues. Please do not worry about the missed exam for now; spend the time that you need taking care of yourself and your mental health. If you are not already connected to help, UHS has very comprehensive counseling services. You can drop in any time during business hours for an initial consultation. If you ever feel unsafe or just want someone to talk to, you can also call the mental health crisis line 24/7 at 608-265-5600 (option 9).
To help you with some of your academic concerns, I have reached out to the Dean of Students Office. I promise you are not in trouble in any way. The folks there are really invested in student well-being and can help you navigate the different support services available to you. I encourage you to stop in during their on-call hours.
Please keep in touch and let me know if there is anything else I can do to help.
I was just reflecting on our advising appointment today and am concerned about some of the things you said to me. It seems like you have a lot going on right now and are feeling overwhelmed. I am here to support you in whatever capacity I can, but I think it would also be helpful for you to talk to a mental health professional.
The counseling center at UHS offers a wide range of free services for students, including stress-reduction, group sessions, and individual therapy. They are great at working with students who have never been to a mental health counselor before. You can go in to the 7th floor of UHS Monday-Friday between 9 am-4 pm for an initial consultation. There are also less formal Let’s Talk sessions available at a variety of times and locations around campus.
UHS also has a 24/7 mental health crisis line at 608-265-5600 (option 9). Please call this number if you ever feel so overwhelmed that you are concerned about your safety or well-being.
I know that class work can be extremely stressful. You are not alone in the anxiety you have been experiencing and the professionals at UHS can help.
Discussing suicide in the classroom
We encourage everyone to talk more openly about suicide. Conversations about suicide can inform and educate audiences while decreasing stigma. However, it is important to ensure discussions are helpful, based on accurate information, and likely to lead to people feeling empowered.
Tips for discussing suicide in the classroom:
- Hold the conversation in a place where students feel comfortable and safe.
- Allow enough time for the presentation or discussion so that questions can be answered and support can provided if necessary.
- If possible, have at least two facilitators or support staff in the room in case a student needs to step out. There should be someone available to check in with them.
- Give students notice that the issue will be raised and what might be covered. If possible, allow the option to opt-out of the discussion. During discussion, do not push students to talk or participate if they would prefer not to.
- Set ground rules and expectations before the discussion starts.
- Consider inviting local mental health professionals, such as school or university counselors, community health staff, or relevant cultural leaders to be part of the discussion.
- Address any myths or misconceptions about suicide that are raised. Challenge harmful views in a supportive and respectful way.
- Use an optimistic tone, highlighting people’s strengths and emphasizing that suicide is preventable.
- Think about providing follow-up sessions or multiple opportunities to get further information.
- Always share mental health resources and encourage help seeking