Sue Lichtfuss is a counselor and program coordinator with Sheppard Pratt Health System’s Mobile Crisis Team, based in Baltimore, Maryland.
Suicide is a complex public health issue with several causes, including psychiatric illnesses that may have not been recognized or treated. Substance abuse and mental disorders account for approximately 90 percent of those who have died by suicide, but these illnesses are treatable and people suffering from them do get better. Many treatment options are available, and there have been several recent advances in treating and understanding suicide. This guide was designed to offer hope and help for those who are experiencing suicidal thoughts, as well as the friends and family who want so badly to help them.
The rule of thumb is simple: If you believe you might need help now, you DO. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, don’t simply hope they will go away: Take action right now. Call 911 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) ask for help.
If you are concerned that someone you know is contemplating suicide, get help for them.
Call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), get in touch with your student health center, go to the emergency room, or call 911. Keep them away from anything that might serve as a weapon. Never leave a suicidal person alone; always stay with them until help arrives.
Knowing the warning signs of suicide can help you jump in when someone needs help. If you are concerned about someone, keep these warning signs in mind, and act immediately when you see them. If you’re experiencing any of these thoughts or actions, there’s immediate help for you at 1-800-273-TALK.
Withdrawing from friends and family
Taking steps to tie up loose ends, such as giving away possessions, settling debts, etc.
Looking into or discussing suicide methods
Abnormally reckless or unsafe behavior
Significant increase in irritability and/or aggression
Expressing feelings of being especially depressed, in pain, trapped, angry, sad or hopeless
Newfound or increased abuse of drugs or alcohol
No longer participating in activities or hobbies that used to bring enjoyment
Experiencing extreme mood swings
Drastic change in sleeping habits
Talking about wanting to die
Suicidal thoughts don’t come out of the blue; there are numerous risk factors that play into someone’s choice to take their own life. Here’s what you need to know to be alert to the possibility of a serious danger, not only in others, but in yourself as well.
Mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder
Abuse of drugs or alcohol
Suffering from constant physical or emotional pain
Suffering from intense internal conflict, such as being deeply in debt or trying to hide sexual orientation or gender identity
Friends, family members, coworkers or peers that have attempted, completed or glamorized suicide
Access to methods of suicide, such as firearms, poisons or drugs
Stressful or traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job or failing to achieve an important lifelong goal
Victim of bullying or harassment
History of suicide attempts
History of mental health issues
History of substance abuse problems
Family history of suicide
The AAS website contains a plethora of information relating to suicide, including a section discussing how to identify the suicide warning signs.
Statistics, general information and information about how to prevent suicide.
The National Alliance on Family Illness provides a free educational program for those who live with a loved one suffering from mental illness. The training is provided locally and can teach caregivers and family members to identify and deal with crises as they arise.
Delivers information on how to prevent suicide and help those suffering from problems that may lead to suicide. SAVE also supports the National Outreach Network which works with local organizations to distribute information about suicide awareness.
The SPRC provides a list of several campus methods used to improve suicide prevention measures.
Information and in-depth report about strategies for preventing suicide.
WebMD is one of the most comprehensive sources of medical information on the Internet, with major sections devoted to mental health, including how to recognize the possible warning signs of suicide.
Suicidal thoughts don’t often come out of the blue; they typically follow a long period of sadness, anxiety and dark thoughts. Sadness is nothing new and experienced by nearly everyone at some point in their lives as the result of change, loss or setback. It’s not unreasonable to feel pain and unhappiness after a negative event, but when sadness persists or seems to come out of nowhere, it may be a sign of a depressive disorder. Symptoms that distinguish normal sadness from depression include severity and duration. Many suicides can be traced to mental disorders such as depression.
To qualify as an acute depression, at least five of the below symptoms would be present at least 14 days in a row.
Depressed mood on most days, for a large portion of each day
Significant changes in appetite and/or weight
Great loss of pleasure most of the time
Sleeping too much or not enough on most days
Slowness or agitation
Tiredness, loss of energy
Feelings of guilt and worthlessness virtually all of the time
Trouble with concentration
Thoughts of death or suicide
The following quiz can help you determine whether it’s time to seek help from a professional counselor.
Think you might be suffering from depression? Give your most honest answers to the following quiz, choosing yes or no for each response.
About 90% of those who attempt suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder.
Depression affects 20-25% of Americans over the age of 18 in any given year.
Only half of those experiencing severe depression seek treatment.
80-90% of adolescents who seek treatment for depression are treated successfully.
Successful treatment of depression leads to almost zero suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
*Sources: NCBI, Psychiatric Times, Save.org
Depression can leave you feeling adrift, uncertain of where to turn or what to do. The good news is that there are very concrete things you can do to combat depression. Simply taking firm, clear steps toward getting better can actually make you feel better. Here’s how.
Call the student health center and make an appointment with a counselor. The counselor will listen to your concerns and help you make choices about what comes next.
Once you have made an appointment with a counselor, keep it! Talking to a professional is a vitally important part of depression treatment.
Your counselor might determine that medication will help. If that’s the case, take it as scheduled, every day. Don’t stop just because you start to feel better.
Telling someone you are depressed can open the floodgates and give you some relief from the pressure of the negative thoughts.
Depression can lead to the desire to stay in with the blinds closed. Force yourself to get outside and walk around, feel the sunshine, and get your blood pumping.
Rather than use this as a venting place – though that is certainly helpful too! – use the journal as a way to record your thoughts so you can look for patterns.
Try to get no more, no less. A good sleep schedule can make you feel much more centered, rested and healthy.
Even though you might not get as much enjoyment from them anymore, keep doing them. As long as you’re treating your depression, eventually the enjoyment will come back.
A well-balanced diet can help you feel better. Look for things that will boost the healthy vitamins you need, such as dark leafy greens, vegetables of all kinds, fruits, and lean meats.
Coming back from depression can be a long, hard road. Don’t let up with any of these points, because all of them combined lead to the best way to get better.
Basic information on depression and links to get more information about depression.
Helping people understand, get help and take action regarding anxiety and depression. The ADAA has a listing of support groups that are available in many local communities.
Providing education, support and resources for those dealing with depression and bipolar disorder, including a search tool to find local DBSA Chapters.
An extensive source of everything relating to mental health, including forums, blogs, videos and news.
An online resource for those seeking to learn about mental disorders. The website also has a treatment locator search tool.
A comprehensive source of information on a wide variety of mental health issues, including depression.
Promotes mental health programs for individuals of all ages from teenagers to older adults. SMH’s website also contains a search tool for finding an anonymous mental health screening at colleges around the country.
A web-based search tool to help individuals find help for any mental health problems they may have.
Almost everyone can be at risk for depression and the sometimes-accompanying suicidal thoughts. But some populations of the college community are more prone to risk than others. These students face very unique challenges that can make preventing suicide more difficult.
According to the CDC, members of the lesbian, gay and bisexual community are four times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers, and questioning youth are three times more likely. Nearly half of transgender youths report thoughts of suicide, while a quarter of this group reports at least one suicide attempt. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, there are several reasons behind these numbers, but one important reason is because the perception of being “different” in some communities may lead to isolation. Other contributing factors include a higher rate of substance abuse in the LGBTQ community and a lessened likelihood of positive support resources that would normally dissuade or prevent a suicide attempt. The following resources are devoted to the focus of suicide in the LGBTQ community:
The reasons these students are at special risk for suicide is as diverse as the types of minority students that attend class on campus. Cultural beliefs, financial difficulties, familial pressure, racial discrimination and prejudice – they can all play a part in creating emotional harm. Learn more from these resources:
The teenage years are rarely easy. Learning who you are, earning more responsibility, dealing with peer pressure – it all makes for a difficult and stressful time. In fact, suicide is one of the leading causes of death for those aged 15 to 19. Treatment options are available, and so is help from the following resources:
Besides dealing with the social and academic pressures which accompany college life, veterans have to deal with adjusting to their new civilian life. This is not always easy, especially when the veteran suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. Veterans also have higher rates of suicide than the general population. Learn more and receive support from these resources:
The good news is that depression is treatable and suicide is preventable – and there are many ways that college students can get involved, right now, to make sure that they and those around them stay safe. There are also many ways that those who are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts can get the help they need. The following aspects of campus suicide prevention can help you, or someone you know, get through the tough times with the help of a strong safety net.
When suicidal thoughts are taking over, calling 911 is the first move. But what if a student is dealing with such dark thoughts that calling for help doesn’t come automatically? That’s where an emergency plan comes in. Fill it out during a time when you are thinking clearly, and keep it with you at all times. Here is more information on a good safety plan:
Places like Facebook and Instagram are great ways to stay connected. They can also serve as a platform for individuals to reach out for the help they need. These resources can help if you notice someone on social media who seems to be in trouble:
Some people who really need help might choose not to get it because they are afraid of what others might think about them, are concerned that their employers will find out, or any other reason that would put their cry for help at center stage. Help prevent that hesitation by making it clear to your friends – and to yourself – that it is not only okay to get help for depression, it is absolutely necessary. These resources offer encouragement:
The JED Foundation was created in 2000 by Donna and Phil Satow after the death of their son Jed. Now the foundation is the leading voice addressing mental health issues and suicide among college students. The JED Foundation Campus Program focuses on helping colleges and universities promote the well-being of all students, as well as provide the framework and encouragement for lasting change in the school community.
The JED Foundation found that 75 percent of students would turn to friends if they were struggling. Students can be prepared to help others through the various initiatives of the foundation, including getting information on the various ways individuals reach out to others, how to identify emotional distress and steps to take to prevent a tragedy.
At the following schools, suicide awareness and prevention is seen as vitally important, and is addressed on a regular basis. Use these schools as inspiration for what your own college or university could do.
Sue Lichtfuss, counselor and program coordinator with Sheppard Pratt Health System’s Mobile Crisis Team discusses suicide in college.
Before arriving on campus, try to anticipate and visualize what life will be like as a way to mentally prepare. Once on campus, students can be proactive about their mental health by just remembering to take time for themselves every day. Being kind to yourself is not something that most of us are taught. Keeping in mind the important things in your life: your family; your true friends; your spirituality/religion; and your values. Try to step back and see the big picture when you can. Get outside, be physically active, try to eat fruits and veggies, listen to music, spend time with friends…in person! Don’t forget to breathe.
Most of us will never become suicidal in response to a singular event or tragedy. But if someone has already been feeling down — a breakup, a bad grade, any kind of real or perceived failure – it is the series of events or feelings that can brings on suicidal thoughts. Any kind of loss, big or small can push the person past just being depressed into feeling hopeless about their life. Don’t let a friend isolate themselves. Don’t believe the excuses…If you are worried just ask for a few minutes together.
Make sure that you are really present at least once each day when interacting with your friends. Not texting or anything else on your phone for a few minutes. Really be there with all of your attention on each other and if you feel like something is different, ask them what is going on. If you feel worried, then there is probably a reason to feel that way. Don’t ignore the feeling. Talk about it.
The biggest “wrong thing” is to say nothing. Or, anything that dismisses the pain that your friend is going through, such as saying they’re being dramatic, saying it’s not worth killing yourself over, or something similar. Asking “are you suicidal?” is the right thing. Tell them that you are sorry that they are hurting and that you will get through this together. A person who is suicidal often feels alone, a burden and worthless to the world. Then stay with that friend until help arrives…call the suicide hotline together; go to a crisis center or an emergency department; go to the campus counseling center; or, if your friend is not willing to get help but is in need, call 911.
Active Minds helps establish student chapters which educate fellow students about mental health issues.
The Student Division of AAS is comprised of student members who are involved in suicide prevention through research.
AFSP exists to prevent suicide and help those affected by suicide. In addition to having local chapters, one of the AFSP’s major events are the on-campus Out of the Darkness Community Walks which raise money to fight suicide.
An online network made up of fully trained and certified crisis intervention volunteers to help those contemplating suicide.
Overview and discussion of common mental health problems facing college students today.
NAMI on Campus works to raise awareness for mental health issues with college students. Those interested can find one of many NAMI on Campus Clubs at participating schools.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential suicide support to anyone, round the clock.
A provider of suicide prevention information and resources for the general public as well as health professionals.
The Colleges and Universities section of the SPRC provides research, resources and other information to help promote mental health and suicide prevention on campus.
Supported by the JED Foundation, ULifeline is an online resource for mental health issues for college students, including suicide prevention.