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:
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 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.
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.