The end of the semester can be a difficult time. Added pressure to perform well, meet expectations or reach certain milestones can negatively affect our mental health. Talking about suicide, even if the conversation is brief, can encourage friends and peers who are at risk to seek support.
Here are some tips you can use if you’re concerned that a friend, roommate or classmate 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:
If you notice these warning signs, there are things you can do to support the person who is struggling and help them connect with resources.
Share your concerns
If you’re concerned about someone 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 your friends lately.” Acknowledging their distress can help open the door for conversation.
If you’re not sure how to approach someone or start the conversation, check out Kognito. This free online program helps students practice conversational skills related to mental health and suicide prevention through role-playing and simulations.
If you’re not comfortable approaching someone 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.
Ask the question
When talking with a friend or peer, 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 someone, 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 resources on campus.
Remember that you don’t have to carry the weight of someone else’s mental health or suicidal thoughts. Reach out to mental health resources for both your friend and yourself.
Listen without judgment, and resist the urge to give them advice. It’s important to understand someone’s 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 lessens with it. However, understanding the source of someone’s pain (e.g. academic pressures, mental health concerns, etc.) can also help us better support them and connect them with resources.
Manage your emotions
Talking about suicide can be nerve-racking, especially if someone says they have considered committing suicide. However, it’s important to manage your own emotions. When we project our own fears or anxieties, it can cause the other person to shut us out or become more distressed. Instead, try to reiterate your care and concern. Let them know that you are there for them and you want them to be okay.
Let the person know that there are resources available to help them and things can get better. Don’t be afraid to call for help immediately if you’re worried about someone’s safety. Here are some on-campus resources that are available to help students who are struggling with mental health concerns or thoughts of suicide.