Published: March 24, 2022

student on phoneThe 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 things you can do if you are concerned that your student or someone you know may be thinking about suicide. 


Know the warning signs

While suicides may take us by surprise or feel unexpected, there are verbal and behavioral warning signs that often 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:

  • Feelings of hopelessness

  • Increased alcohol or drug use

  • Sudden changes in academic performance (e.g. cutting class, missing assignments, etc.)

  • Withdrawing from friends, family or social groups

  • Being unable to sleep or sleeping all the time, insomnia

  • Expressing feelings that life is meaningless or there is no reason to live

  • Feeling desperate or trapped, like there is no way out

  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky behaviors

  • Engaging in violent or self-destructive behaviors

  • Noticeable decline or worsening of mental health conditions (e.g. depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.)

  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide

  • Giving away possessions

  • Neglecting their appearance or hygiene

If you notice these warning signs, there are ways you can support your student and help them connect with support services.


Share your concerns

If you’re concerned about your student, gently share what you’ve noticed and your desire to help. It can be helpful to provide concrete examples of behaviors that you’ve noticed. For instance, you may say “I’ve noticed you seem unhappy lately” or “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been spending as much time with your friends as you used to.” Acknowledging their distress can help open the door for conversation.


Ask the question

Don’t be afraid to ask your student 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 might be time to think about referring them for help or coming out to support them.


Listen

Listen to your student without judgment, and resist the urge to give them advice. It’s important to understand your student’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 dissipates with it. However, understanding the source of our student’s 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 your student know that there are resources available to help them and things can get better. Here are some resources that are available to help students who are struggling with mental health concerns or thoughts of suicide.

Emergency services (911)

If your student or someone you know is threatening to eminently kill or harm themselves, call 911 and request emergency mental health support.

Crisis services

If your 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.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to talk confidentially with a trained crisis support worker. They are available 24/7 and calls are answered locally at 1-800-273-8255.

Let’s Talk

If your 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 your 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.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to talk confidentially with a trained crisis support worker. They are available 24/7 and calls are answered locally at 1-800-273-8255.

If you are worried about your student and aren’t sure what to do, Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) can help. Give them a call at 303-492-2277 to talk with a professional counselor about how to best support your student.