Photo of a student looking down on Farrand Field.

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:

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

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

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.


Instill hope

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.

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.

Emergency resource

Welfare checks

Welfare checks can be instituted by any police department if you’re concerned about the health, safety or welfare of someone. Be prepared to give the exact address (residence hall and room number if on campus) as well as the reason for your concerns.

  • On campus: CUPD 303-492-6666
  • Off campus: Boulder Police 303-441-3333

 Emergency/urgent resource

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.

 Urgent resource

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.

 Urgent resource

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.

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.

Mental Health First Aid

Learn valuable skills to help recognize and respond to a person who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. This course will cover a range of mental health disorders and response techniques to help students learn how to support someone who may be struggling.