Photo of a student looking sullen on a bench at Farrand Field.

The end of the semester can be a difficult time for students. Added pressure to perform well, meet expectations or reach certain milestones can negatively impact the mental health of many. College students are at increased risk for suicide, especially during high-stress times of the year. Talking about suicide, even if the conversation is brief, can encourage people who are at risk to seek support.

Here are some tips for staff and faculty who are concerned that a student may be struggling or thinking about suicide.


Know the warning signs

While suicides may take us by surprise or feel unexpected, there can be subtle or more obvious signs that precede suicidal behaviors. Knowing potential warning signs and ways to intervene can dramatically reduce the risks of suicidal behaviors. 

Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Sudden changes in academic performance (e.g. cutting class, missing assignments, etc.)
  • Being unable to sleep or sleeping all the time (including in class)
  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide
  • Neglecting their appearance or hygiene
  • Increased alcohol or other drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends, family or peer groups
  • Engaging in violent or self-destructive behaviors
  • Expressing feelings that life is meaningless or there is no reason to live
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky behaviors
  • Feeling desperate or trapped, like there is no way out
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Noticeable decline or worsening of mental health conditions (e.g. depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.)
  • Giving away possessions

If you notice these warning signs, there are ways you can support students and help them connect with resources.

Red Folder is a great tool for faculty and staff that walks you through the steps of recognizing concerning behaviors, reaching out to students and referring them to additional resources.


Share your concerns

If you’re concerned about a student and feel comfortable talking with them, gently share what you’ve noticed and your desire to help. Try to arrange a time to meet with them privately to discuss your concerns. It can be helpful to provide concrete examples of behaviors that you’ve noticed. For instance, you may say “I’ve noticed you’ve been struggling to keep up with assignments recently” or “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been spending as much time with others in class.” Acknowledging their distress can help open the door for conversation.

If you’re not comfortable approaching a student with your concerns, consider filling out an online referral for Student Support and Case Management. Their office can reach out to students to follow-up and provide additional support. You can also reach out to the health and wellness liaisons within your college for additional support. 


Ask the question

When talking with students, don’t be afraid to ask directly about suicide or self-harm. Contrary to what we may think, talking about suicide directly isn’t going to plant the idea in their head. If they have been thinking about suicide or self-harm, asking them about it can be a relief and an opportunity for them to talk about it more openly. 

When you ask, express your care by saying something like “I’m asking because I care. Are you thinking about suicide?” If they aren’t, they’ll let you know. Asking students, even if they aren’t thinking about suicide, lets them know that it’s okay to talk about it in the future if things change. If they are thinking about suicide, it’s likely time to help them connect with mental health resources on campus.


Listen

Listen to students without judgment, and resist the urge to give them advice. It’s important to understand our students’ pain and what they’re experiencing. Keep in mind that suicidal behaviors are often short-term and situation-specific. In many cases, suicide ideation is an attempt to control or manage significant pain. When the pain subsides, suicide ideation often dissipates with it. However, understanding the source of our students’ pain (e.g. academic pressures, mental health concerns, etc.) can help us better support them and connect them with resources.


Manage your emotions

Talking about suicide can be challenging, especially if a student says they are considering committing suicide. It’s important to notice your own emotional response and seek support if needed. If students pick up on our own distress or anxiety when discussing the topic of suicide, they may feel like we are not able to handle what they have to tell us and may shut us out. Instead, try to reiterate your care and concern. Let them know that you are there for them and you want them to be okay.


Instill hope

Let students know that there are resources available to help them and things can get better. Here are some on-campus resources that are available to help students who are struggling with mental health concerns or thoughts of suicide.

Support resources

Emergency services (911)

If a student or someone you know is threatening to eminently kill or harm themselves, call 911 and request emergency mental health support. CU Boulder Police is also available at 303-492-6666. They work with Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) and the Office of Victim Assistance (OVA) to better address calls related to mental health crises and traumatic events.

Crisis services

If a student is in need of urgent or same-day support, Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) provides crisis support 24/7. Call 303-492-2277 to connect with a triage counselor.

Health and Wellness liaisons

CU Boulder colleges and schools have access to dedicated teams of liaisons from Counseling and Psychiatric Services, the Office of Victim Assistance and Health Promotion. 

Red Folder

Red Folder provides information on how to recognize signs of distress, tips for responding and how to refer a student to the appropriate campus resources. 

Let’s Talk

If a student is not currently suicidal but may be struggling, Let’s Talk is a great way to get connected with support services. They can meet one-on-one with a counselor for a confidential consultation that can help them gain insight and connect with additional resources on campus.

Student Support and Case Management (SSCM)

SSCM provides support for students throughout their time at CU Boulder. They are here to help students identify issues and appropriate resources. They also work collaboratively with students to develop an action plan.

Workshops

If a student is not currently suicidal but may be struggling, workshops are a great way for students to learn coping skills related to anxiety, stress and other painful emotions. Workshops are available throughout the week and are covered by the student mental health fee.

Office of Victim Assistance (OVA)

OVA provides free and confidential information, consultation, support, advocacy and short-term counseling services for students, grad students, faculty and staff who have experienced a traumatic, disturbing or life-disruptive event.