How To Help A Student In Crisis

College is a major transition that presents a variety of issues for students due to new responsibilities, internal and external pressures, expanding personal independence, homesickness, and social demands.


Recognize the Warning Signs

According to the American College Health Association National College Health Assessment Survey (2011), many college students are experiencing emotional distress leading to sadness, loneliness, anxiety, and depression.  The following are warning signs that a student may be at risk for suicide:

  • Sudden and dramatic changes in behavior (impulsivity or aggressiveness), mood, or activity level
  • Feelings of hopelessness and depression
  • Social isolation and withdrawal
  • Recent loss (end of a relationship, lost job, the death of a loved one)
  • Talking or writing about suicide
  • Neglecting appearance or hygiene
  • A rapid decline in school performance
  • Fixation with death or violence
  • Substance abuse
  • Giving away possessions

What You Can Do to Help

Do...

  • Meet with the student in private and ask directly about suicidal thoughts.
  • Listen attentively and empathize.
  • Express your concerns in non-judgmental terms.
  • Show interest and support.
  • Offer hope that help is available.
  • Contact Counseling and Psychological Services staff for consultation (a counselor can be reached by phone 24 hours a day).
  • Inform student of free campus counseling services and telephone hotlines.
  • Offer to walk the student over to Counseling and Psychological Services (Walk-in crisis appointments are available daily).

Don’t...

  • Act shocked. This will put distance between you.
  • Be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad.
  • Lecture on the value of life.
  • Offer glib reassurance. 

Suicide Myths

MYTH: Students who talk about killing themselves rarely commit suicide.
FACT: Most people (75%) who commit suicide have given some verbal clues or warning of their intention. Pay attention to student’s verbal and nonverbal behavior for warning signs. Examples of direct statements that warrant immediate action:

  • I wish I were dead.
  • What’s the point of living?
  • Soon you won’t have to worry about me.
  • Who cares if I’m dead, anyway?

MYTH: If you ask a student about their suicidal intentions, you will only encourage them to kill themselves.
FACT: Actually the opposite is true. Asking a student directly about their suicidal intentions will often lower their anxiety level and act as a deterrent to suicidal behavior by encouraging them to express pent-up emotions. If you have concerns about a student, ask directly.

  • When you say…, do you mean you are thinking of killing yourself?
  • Are you having thoughts about ending your life?

Resources
UWF Counseling and Psychological Services 850.474.2420 (After hours, the automated system instructs you how to page the psychologist on call.)
Hopeline Network 800.SUICIDE (800.784.2433)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800.273.TALK (800.273-8255)
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention http:/www.afsp.org

If you would like to learn more about how to identify suicide risk factors and ways to intervene with a student in crisis, you can request a free QPR suicide prevention training for your department. Contact April Glenn for more information.