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College Students: Suicide Prevention


College Students and Suicide

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college students. At least 25 suicide attempts are made for every college student suicide. Warning signs if suicide include feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, or worthlessness; loss of interest in friends, activities, and hobbies; drinking/drug use; rage or uncontrollable anger; withdrawal from people and classes; expressing feelings that life is meaningless or that there is no reason to live; and various other signs.

Statements like "Nobody cares or understands me.", "Everyone will be better off without me.", "What's the point of living?", and "Soon you won't have to worry about me." are all statements to watch out for. Among other things as well, these statements show immediate need for support and resources.

College Student Suicide and Bullying

Victims of bullying are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims (Yale University). Bullying related suicide can be connected to any type of bullying, including physical bullying, cyberbullying, and the spreading of sexually explicit messages.

College Student Suicide and Mental Illness

Mental illness is the number one cause for college students to attempt suicide. Many college students struggle with stress, mental health issues, illnesses, and have lack of energy and sleep. Students tend to think they are too busy for therapy, to explore resources, or to get help. It's incredibly important to reach out for help as it's best to get help sooner rather than later when it comes to mental health and disorders.

What is suicide?

Suicide: Death caused by self-directed

injurious behavior with an intent to die.

Suicide Attempt: A non-fatal, self-directed,

potentially injurious behavior with an intent

to die as a result of the behavior.

Suicidal Ideation: Thinking about, considering, or planning for suicide or a suicide attempt.

What if someone needs help online?

If you see someone online who is suicidal, there are several steps you can take to help this person.

  • Take his or her words seriously and respond with compassion, in a non-judgmental way.

  • Encourage them to reach out for help to a friend, family member, counselor, doctor, or other trusted person.

  • Encourage him or her to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (Lifeline). Tell them the Lifeline is available 24/7 for anyone in suicidal crisis anywhere in the United States.

  • If the person online is saying he or she is going to kill themselves at that moment or is in the process of attempting suicide, please try to find the person's location and call the local police or 911. They may be able to help find their location if you are unable to do so. Remain calm and understanding with the person talking about suicide.

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Most college students can be helped in getting through their moment of crisis if they have someone who will spend time with them, listen, take them seriously, and help them talk about their thoughts and feelings while remaining empathetic and non-judgmental. What most suicidal people want is not to be dead, but instead find some way to get through the terrible pain they are experiencing and someone they can turn to during those terrible moments of fear and desperation as feelings of loneliness and hopelessness may be overwhelming to them.

Having someone to talk to can make a big difference. However, you may need to be persistent before they are willing to talk. Talking about suicide or suicidal thoughts will not push someone to kill themselves. It is also not true that people who talk about killing themselves will not actually try it. Take any expressed intention of suicide very seriously. While you may not be able to solve these problems for a friend or classmate, you may be able to help the person find someone who can help. It's also important to take care of yourself and make sure your own mental health and wellbeing is good. Helping someone through or talking someone down from suicide can be very self-draining and scary, not to mention very stressful. Make sure you are taking steps to take care of yourself as well if you are helping a friend or someone close to that is talking about suicide.


1.  Recognize the warning signs of depression and suicide risk. Research suggests that the majority of people who attempt suicide literally do something to let others know their intentions before they act. These warning signs consist of personal behaviors, verbal and non-verbal communications. Mental and emotional illnesses such as depression and bi-polar disorders are often tied to suicidal feelings. The risk of suicide may be greatest as the person's depression begins to lift. Warning signs are often given out, but people fail to notice them. Knowing what the warning signs are for someone that is suicidal is a great first step in helping others.

2.  Take suicidal statements seriously and trust your instincts. 50-75% of all suicides give some warning of their intentions to a friend or family member. Imminent signs must be taken seriously. Never assume that the person is acting, seeking attention, or over exaggerating. Take them at what their words are saying to you.

3.  Get involved and use "active listening."

By listening to what the person in crisis has to say and by asking direct and open questions, we show our willingness to talk about anything with that person, including his/her feelings about suicide.

  • Start by telling the person you are concerned and give him or her examples.

  • Do not attempt to argue someone out of suicide. Rather, let the person know you care, that he or she is not alone, that suicidal feelings are temporary and that depression can be treated. Avoid the temptation to say, "You have so much to live for," or "Your suicide will hurt your family."

4.  Encourage the person to seek professional help.

  • Be actively involved in encouraging the person to see a physician or mental health professional immediately.

  • Individuals contemplating suicide often don't believe they can be helped, so you may have to do more.

  • Help the person find a knowledgeable mental health professional or a reputable treatment facility, and take them to the treatment.

5.  While directly asking about suicide can be scary, the person you're concerned about needs you to ask, "Do you feel so badly you are thinking about suicide?"

Almost everyone thinks about suicide at some point in their life. By listening and observing the "warning signs" of suicide and asking direct questions, we demonstrate our willingness to talk about anything with the person in crisis, including his/her feelings about suicide. He or she is likely to feel understood and that you understand the pain they are in. It can be a great relief to the person if his or her suicidal feelings can be brought out into the open and discussed freely without shock or disapproval; it shows that you are taking the person seriously.

6.  If the answer is "Yes," take the person's response seriously and continue the "Suicide Risk" assessment questions.

  • "Do you have a plan to take your own life?" or "Have you thought of how you would do it?"

  • "Do you have the means or materials available to act out your plan?" If so, "What and where are they?"

  • "Have you set a time?" or "Have you decided when you would do it?"

If the answer is still "Yes," ask:

  • "Have you ever attempted suicide before?"

  • "What happened then?"

If the person has a definite plan, the means are available and the time is set and immediate, you should consider the person to be high risk for suicide.

7.  Do not leave a person whom you feel is "high risk" for suicide alone, even for a moment.

If a person has expressed suicidal feelings, has a plan, the means available and has a time set, you should always take him or her seriously. If there is any doubt, take him or her seriously. A person who is "high risk" for suicide should not be left alone. Keep talking to that person, stay with him or her or arrange for another party (someone who that person trusts and feels comfortable with) to stay with them. Remove from the vicinity any firearms, drugs or sharp objects that could be used for suicide.

8.  If the person in crisis has taken some form of life-threatening action, get help immediately.

If a person has taken any action that you believe could be considered life-threatening, don't hesitate to get that person to a hospital yourself (if practical) or call an ambulance or emergency services.


  • Be direct. Talk openly and direct about suicide and your concerns.

  • Be non-judgmental. Don't debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don't lecture on the value of life.

  • Be empathetic and show empathy, not sympathy.

  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.

  • Don't dare him or her to do it. Never say things like this. It may push them over the edge.

  • Don’t ask "why." This encourages defensiveness and lack of understanding.

  • Never promise to keep suicide a secret. Seek support.

  • Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer reassurance.

  • Do not counsel the person yourself, seek professional help. Offering advice may seem well but it a bad mental state, it may be taken the wrong way and not how you had meant it.

  • Don't pretend you have all the answers. The most important thing you can do may be to help them find help.

  • Don't be afraid of being wrong. It is difficult for even experts to understand who is at serious risk of suicide and who is not. Many of the warning signs for suicide could also indicate problems with drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence, depression, or another mental illness, which still need professional intervention.

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