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The Suicidal Student

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. The suicidal person is typically intensely ambivalent about killing himself or herself, and usually responds to help. Suicidal states are definitely time-limited and most who commit suicide are neither crazy nor psychotic. High risk indicators include: feelings of hopelessness and futility; a severe loss or threat of loss; a detailed suicide plan; history of prior attempts; history of alcohol or other drug abuse; and feelings of alienation and isolation from others. Suicidal students usually want to communicate their feelings and any opportunity to do so should be encouraged.

Helpful Responses—

  • Taking the person seriously; 80% of suicides give warning of their intent.
  • Acknowledging that a threat of suicide (or attempt) is a plea for help.
  • Asking the individual directly whether s/he is considering harming her/himself (e.g., "You seem so upset and discouraged that I'm wondering if you are thinking of suicide?").
  • Being available to listen, to talk, to be concerned; but refer to Counseling & Psychological Services (509-359-2366), the Student Health Clinic (509-235-6151), and/or Spokane Mental Health (509-838-4651).
  • Consulting with the above resources as necessary.
  • Contacting the Dean of Students' Office (509-359-2292) to initiate appropriate university responses (see Suicide Prevention section).
  • If the situation is believed imminent, call 9-1-1 or First Call For Help (509-838-4428).
  • Administering to yourself.  Helping someone who is feeling suicidal is hard, demanding, and draining work.

Less Helpful Responses—

  • Minimizing the situation or depth of feeling (e.g., "Oh, it will be much better tomorrow").
  • Being afraid to ask the person if they are so depressed or sad that they want to hurt themselves.
  • Overcommitting yourself and, therefore, being unable to deliver on what you promise.
  • Ignoring your limitations (i.e., not consulting with available resources).

If you observe any of these warning signs that indicate suicidal risk, particularly in combination, communicate with a mental health professional as soon as possible:

  1. Expression of desire to kill him/herself or wishing to be dead.
  2. Presence of a plan to harm self.
  3. Means are available to carry out plan to harm self.
  4. Suicide plan is specific as to time, place; notes already written.
  5. High stress due to grief, illness, loss of new job, academic difficulty, etc.
  6. Symptoms of depression are present, such as loss of appetite, sleep, severe hopelessness or agitation, feelings of exhaustion, guilt/shame, loss of interest in school, work or sexual activities, change or deterioration in hygiene.
  7. Intoxication or drug abuse (including alcohol).
  8. Previous suicide attempt by the individual, a friend or family member.
  9. Isolation, loneliness, or lack of support.
  10. Withdrawal or agitation.
  11. Preparation to leave, giving away possessions, packing belongings.
  12. Secretive behavior.
  13. Major mood changes (e.g., elation of person who has been depressed).
  14. Indirect comments implying death is an option (e.g., person implies he/she may not be around in the future).
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