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The Depressed Student

Because we all experience some of the symptoms of depression at one time or another, we all have some personal knowledge of what the depressed student is going through. A depressed student is likely to be experiencing some of the following:

Signs and Symptoms—

  1. Deep feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
  2. Difficulty performing simple daily activities like getting out of bed and getting dressed.
  3. Loss of interest in usual activities, even pleasurable activities (e.g., good student stops attending class).
  4. Insomnia or hypersomnia.
  5. Overeating/weight gain or loss of appetite/weight loss.
  6. Difficulty concentrating and remembering.
  7. Decreased energy (everything is an effort).
  8. Feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy.
  9. Guilt or anger at him/herself.
  10. Thoughts or comments about death/suicide.

Helpful Responses—

  • Let the student know you're aware s/he is feeling down and that you would like to help.
  • Reach out more than halfway and encourage the student to talk about her/his feelings.
  • Tell the student of your concerns.
  • Talk about suicide if that's on the student's mind.
  • Refer if suicidal (CAPS: 509-359-2366; Spokane Mental Health: 509-838-4651).
  • Daily contact, even for a few minutes, may relieve feelings of isolation (encourage the student to be in contact with family, friends, counselor).

Less Helpful Responses—

  • Saying "don't worry," "crying won't help," or "everything will be better tomorrow," may only make the student feel worse (and unheard).
  • Becoming overwhelmed by the student's problems, may only provide evidence that s/he should feel helpless.
  • Assuming too much responsibility for the student and his/her problems.
  • Trying to ignore or minimize his/her feelings.
  • Being afraid to ask whether the person is feeling suicidal (if you believe s/he may be).

Suicide Risk Factors—

  1. History of suicidal behavior.
  2. Family history of suicide.
  3. Specific plan for harming self (the more developed the plan, the greater likelihood of an attempt).
  4. Means to carry out plan (lethality of implement increases risk).
  5. Drug or alcohol abuse.
  6. History of impulsive behavior.
  7. Lack of interpersonal/social resources.
  8. Lack of intrapersonal/coping resources.

Facts About Suicide—

It is important to take all suicidal comments seriously and to make appropriate referrals. Below are a few facts about suicide:

  • College students actually have lower suicide rates than non-college peers of the same age.
  • More men commit suicide; more women attempt suicide.
  • There are more attempts at the beginning and end of semesters/quarters.
  • People committing suicide rarely want to die, but want to end the pain they experience; most reveal ambivalence about living versus dying.
  • Not all suicidal persons are depressed or mentally ill-however their typical coping mechanisms have broken down or are unavailable.
  • Individuals who commit suicide typically give many clues or warnings of their intent.
  • Asking a person directly about suicidal intent does not lead to an attempt (in fact, it may minimize the anxiety and tension surrounding the feeling and, thereby, act as a deterrent to suicidal behavior).


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