When a person talks about suicide, it can be an opportunity for social support. The suicidal person is letting his/her feelings known, feelings that may be too overwhelming and too difficult to handle. Occasionally, a suicidal person is seeking a way to put an end to unbearable feelings and circumstances.
People who are experiencing significant difficulties in their personal or professional lives may reach a point where they feel they have no options. He or she may feel unloved, depressed, lonely, or worthless. It may be because of a life transition such as a loss of a loved one, break up of a relationship, moving to a new town or failing an exam. With hopeless and helpless feelings, problems the person faces may seem unbearable. Nothing seems to offer relief and no one seems to really care.
A person may have a poor self-image and feels worthless in comparison to others. In the case of students, he or she may not be doing well in school either academically or socially. Sometimes, those individuals will abuse alcohol and/or drugs to point of losing self-control and engaging in impulsive, risk taking behaviors.
Myths and Facts
People almost always commit suicide without warning. (Myth. In actuality, it’s about 50/50)
A minor event such as a poor test grade is unlikely to push an otherwise normal person to commit suicide. (Fact)
Ten to 15 percent of all clinically depressed individuals will commit suicide. (Fact)
If a person committed suicide, his or her situation was probably so bad that death was the best solution. (Myth)
People who threaten suicide don’t do it. (Myth)
People who really want to die will find a way; it won’t help to try to stop them. (Myth)
If a suicidal person has had a close relative commit suicide, the risk of the suicidal person committing suicide increases. (Fact)
One should not be afraid to discuss suicide with depressed people; it will not give them the idea or upset them enough to “push them over the edge.” (Fact)
The great majority of suicides are among minority groups from lower socioeconomic classes. (Myth. White, unemployed males of any SES are the highest majority of suicides)
The age group at highest risk for suicide these days is divorced males, age 45 and older.(Fact)
Suicides occur in greatest numbers around Christmas and Thanksgiving. (Myth. Greatest numbers of suicides occur in the springtime)
Improvement following a suicidal crisis sometimes results in unexpected suicides. (Fact)
If someone survives a suicide attempt, he or she must have been doing it as manipulation. (Myth)
One does not reinforce pathological behavior by attending to vague suicide references.(Fact)
Possible Signs of Suicide Risk
Student has suicidal ideation, plan and/or means
Student has made previous suicide attempts
Student has frequent thoughts of self-harm or death
Student has given away valued possessions
Student shows evidence of “putting affairs in order”
Student is having difficulty adjusting to a lost relationship
Student has withdrawn from activities he or she previously enjoyed
Student cries frequently
Student has exhibited a sudden change in behavior and/or attitude
Student has a decrease in academic functioning and/or class attendance
Student complains of an inability to concentrate
Student expresses excessive feelings of guilt
Student exhibits erratic behavior that cannot be explained
Student has experienced serious family difficulties
Student has experienced the loss of a parent of loved one
Student is suffering from a serious illness
Student failed to achieve a highly valued goal
Student is experiencing sleep disturbances
Student is experiencing a change in appetite
Student is chemically dependent
Student is currently intoxicated
Student has increased use of alcohol and/or drugs
Student’s personal appearance has recently deteriorated
Student is experiencing feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and despair
There is evidence of low self-esteem
Student tends to dwell on her/his problems
Significant others have committed suicide
Student has exhibited evidence of or has been previously diagnosed with a mental illness
Student lacks a support system
Student makes verbalizations that convey thoughts of suicide or off handed comments about not being around or about death – “I feel like killing myself.”, “No one cares about me.”, “Life isn’t worthwhile.”, “People are better off without me, I’m a burden.”, “Nothing is going right.”, “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
Tips for Gathering Information
If you are concerned about a friend or family member, there are four important questions that you should ask:
Thoughts – Have you thought about harming or killing yourself?
Intent – Do you plan on harming or killing yourself?
Plan – How do you plan to harm or kill yourself?
History – Have you ever tried to kill yourself?
How to Help
In eight out of ten suicides the person has spoken about their wish before killing themselves. They need someone to take them and their emotional pain seriously. So listen and talk openly about his or her feelings, including suicidal thoughts and wishes.
Use the word “suicide.” A student may feel relief to be able to talk with you openly about their feelings. Suicidal thoughts are often a desperate attempt to communicate the need to be understood and helped.
Do not debate, argue or lecture about whether suicide is right or wrong. Express concern.
Ask about suicidal thoughts/plan/lethality, and help them consider alternative solutions to their problem other than suicide.
Never agree to keep suicidal thoughts in confidence.
Help the student to stay safe by removing lethal objects, call for help from your RA or public safety, and stay with them.
Encourage student to seek help.
Talk with support-staff for feedback on how you might continue to help and for opportunities to take care of yourself.
Asking a student if he or she is suicidal will not plant the idea in his or her head. Likely, the person has already thought about it.
Discussing the problem shows that you care and are concerned about student’s welfare.
A suicide attempt does not mean the person is crazy. In fact, many suicide attempts are made by intelligent people who are temporarily confused and expecting too much of themselves.
You are NOT responsible for determining the probability that someone may or may not take his own life. That is the job of a mental health professional. It is important that you alert us to the situation as soon as possible so the person can get the help he or she needs.