Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among college age students. And, suicide rates are higher in the U.S. than homicide rates. To help prevent suicide, here is some information that may be helpful.
Suicide Warning Signs
There are typically warning signs from those who are seriously considering suicide. Although many may show warning signs without ever trying to kill themselves, these signs typically indicate that something may be seriously wrong and give us an opportunity to reach out and offer help. Someone who is contemplating suicide may:
- Feel an overwhelming and prolonged sense of sadness and helplessness, and lack hope in their lives.
- Experience prolonged stress.
- Withdrawal from those around them.
- Change in eating or sleeping patterns.
- Lose interest in activities that they used to enjoy.
- Make direct or indirect statements about suicide or hopelessness.
- Be preoccupied with death.
- Make a plan to commit suicide or prepare in some other way, such as giving away valued possessions.
- Have a history of previous suicide attempt(s).
- Encounter emotional difficulties that make it hard for them to function from day to day. For example, the person may be unable to concentrate on assignments and job/school performance suffers as a result.
- Act harmfully to themselves or to others. For instance, the person may drink too much alcohol and become overly aggressive.
- Be troubled by emotional difficulties facing family members or close friends.
- The more signs a person exhibits, the more likely they are to attempt suicide.
How You Can Help
- Remain calm.
- In most instances, there is no rush. Sit & listen -- really listen to what the person is saying. Reflect and convey your understanding of their struggles, and actively support their feelings. Allow them to express difficult emotions. Trying to dissuade them from having these feelings can be perceived as an unwillingness to listen.
- Address safety concerns; directly ask about suicide.
- Determine if there is a need for immediate response. Most people have mixed feelings about death and dying and do want help from others. Don't be afraid to ask or talk directly about suicide, but be careful to be non-judgmental. Contrary to myth, talking about suicide will not give a person the idea. Your openness and concern in asking about them will allow the person to talk about the problem which may help reduce their anxiety. This may also allow the person with suicidal thoughts to feel less lonely or isolated, and perhaps a bit relieved.
- If the student has specific thoughts about self-harm (i.e., a specific method, specific location, and/or specific time), call 911 if you are off campus, and call UPD at (408) 924-2222 if you are on campus. It is a first and foremost priority to establish safety.
- Even those who are not suicidal but have the risk factors should be referred for professional help.
- Encourage problem solving and positive actions. Typically a person in crisis is not thinking clearly; encourage them to refrain from making any serious, irreversible decision while in a crisis.
- After conveying your understanding of their struggles, ask them if they would mind that you present some alternatives. Then, talk about some alternatives which may establish hope for the future.
- Get assistance. Although you want to help, do not take the full responsibility by trying to be the sole counsel. Seek out resources and solicit professional help, even if it means breaking this person's confidence; avoid promising to keep their suicidal thoughts a secret.
- Let the person in crisis know that you are concerned, so concerned that you are willing to arrange help beyond that which you can offer.
- Refer the student to a trained counselor. You can offer to make the call to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). You can also consult with a clinician before you talk to a student. If the student is with you when you make the call, give the student the phone once you have told the counselor what is happening. Emergency walk-ins are available at CAPS (Student Wellness Center, Room 300B (third floor), 408-924-5910).
- Sometimes it helps if you can walk the student over to CAPS.
- If a student prefers an off-campus contact, the student can call the Santa Clara County Crisis Line (408-279-3312), a 24-hour telephone hotline. Or, they can call Bay Area Self-Help Line (800-273-6222).
What if the Student Refuses Help?
It is important to be prepared for potential obstacles when helping a student in distress. If a student refuses your recommendation to speak to a counselor, there are still some options. If the student does not have immediate safety concerns, consider the following:
- Call for consultation with a personal counselor yourself (408-924-5910), if it is M-F 8am-5pm.
- If the student lives on campus, call the residence life professional staff for assistance (408-795-5600).
- For after hours, call Santa Clara County's 24-hour suicide crisis hotline: 408-279-3312.
- Follow up with the student. Even when a student has talked to a counselor, it does not mean they are continuing treatment. Check back with the student if you notice that their risk appears to persist or increase. Keep in mind that counselors are bound by confidentiality laws. A counselor cannot disclose any information, not even whether the student has kept their appointment, unless the student has signed a release of information. However, you are encouraged to consult with a counselor if you have more information that you feel would be useful for the counselor.
- Your own self care. Maintaining a relationship with someone who is suicidal can be challenging and may take a toll on you. However, getting involved can make a difference and can help prevent suicide. Do make sure that you take good care of yourself as well, and seek support for yourself.
How Counseling Can Help
- Personal counselors help people to identify the possible contributors to suicidal thoughts. Skilled counselors can work with a student to Identify the life problems that contribute to that sense of hopelessness, and help someone understand which aspects of those problems they may be able to solve or improve. A trained counselor can also help identify realistic goals to improve well-being.
- Help regain a sense of control and pleasure in life. Counseling helps people see choices as well as gradually incorporate enjoyable, fulfilling activities back into their lives.
- There is convincing evidence that most people who have at least several sessions of counseling are far better off than untreated individuals with emotional difficulties.
There are many approaches to counseling. Despite the variations, all personal counseling is a two-way process that works the best when the student and the counselor communicate openly about expectations and share any concerns as they arise.
- Counseling isn't necessarily easy, but those who are willing to work in close partnership with their counselor often find a decrease in their emotional distress and begin to lead more productive and fulfilling lives.
- Counseling works best when a person attends all scheduled sessions, continues thinking about and working on issues addressed in counseling while away from the sessions, and gives some forethought to what they want to discuss during each session.
We encourage you to come to CAPS in Student Wellness Center, Room 300B (third floor), to consult, vent, and to learn skills to take care of yourself when you know someone or you are in a relationship with someone who is suicidal. Our personal counselors are available for appointments or walk in crisis counseling. Please call 408-924-5910 to schedule an appointment or for more information.
Santa Clara County also provides a 24-hour suicide crisis hotline: 408-279-3312