Intervene to Prevent Suicide

Knowing the signs of suicide is important in helping someone who may be at risk. By offering your understanding, reassurance and support, you can help your loved one or friend seek the help they need.

Learn How To Help

Risk Factors

The majority of today’s college students are generally happy with their lives and optimistic about their future. But many students will struggle at some point during their college careers with depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental health concerns. College life can be a time of high stress. Some common events that contribute to student stress are: embarrassment, shame, a break-up or loss of relationship, not getting into a particular major, fear of poor grades, fear of losing financial aid or the pressure to be perfect.

The Jed Foundation reports that half of college students have felt so depressed at a time that they were unable to function. College campuses across the United States have robust resources available to help with mental health issues. Regrettably, students overall are reluctant to take advantage of those resources.

Suicide is a leading cause of death for college students. You can help save a life by knowing and understanding the facts of suicide prevention. Having thoughts of suicide is often a sign that something needs attention and care. Most suicidal people don’t want to die, they just want their pain to end.

  • History of family depression and/or suicide
  • History of abuse
  • History of previous suicide attempts
  • Mental health problem that is untreated (e.g., depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety)
  • Access to firearms or other lethal methods
  • Isolation from family and/or spiritual community
  • Prejudice, racial tension, discrimination, or inter-cultural conflict
  • A recent loss (e.g., death or break-up)
  • Poverty and under- or unemployment
  • Concerns about mental health stigma
  • Experiences of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Feelings of alienation, loneliness, guilt, shame, or inadequacy
  • Conflict with others or feeling misunderstood
  • Behaviors that are impulsive or aggressive
  • Absence of interpersonal attachments
  • A new educational system
  • Language barriers
  • Homesickness and culture shock
  • Fears about seeking help for depression or suicidal thoughts
  • Academic problems (e.g., failing courses, missing classes, inattentiveness)

Conveying hope to a loved one is the best defense against suicide

Intervene Early

  • Express your concern.
  • Listen, offer support and understanding.
  • Don’t judge, argue, or act shocked by their plans.
  • Don't ridicule or minimize their feelings.
  • Give genuine interest and support.

Suicide can be prevented. Some suicides occur without warning, but nearly 90% of people will show some outward signs well before they attempt to take their own life. It's important to recognize when someone is suicidal but more importantly, be aware of the first signs of trouble and intervene early! It is always better to overreact than to underreact.

Know the Signs

First Signs of Trouble

  • Depressed mood for more than two weeks
  • No interest in activities; social withdrawal
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Impulsive, reckless behavior
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Anxiety and agitation; inability to concentrate
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Dramatic mood swings, including uncontrolled anger
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Feelings of hopelessness or being trapped
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Signs of Suicidality

  • Expresses feelings of depression or hopelessness.
  • Emphasizes anxiety, stress.
  • Has increased conflicts with or aggression toward others.
  • Talks or writes about death and dying, killing oneself, or ending it all.
  • Starts giving away possessions or tying up loose ends.
  • Withdraws from family, friends, and activities once enjoyed.
  • Increases use of alcohol and/or drugs or engages in reckless behaviors.
  • Gains access to lethal means (e.g., guns, pills, knives, etc.)

Learn to Intervene

Suicide is a leading cause of death for college students. You can help save a life by understanding suicide prevention and how to intervene. REACH© is a training program to help students, faculty and staff prevent suicide.

Learn About REACH© Training

Provide genuine interest and support

When talking to a friend, express your concern. Listen, offer support, and show understanding. Don’t judge, argue or act shocked by his or her plans. Don't ridicule them or minimize their feelings. Most of all, don’t ignore the warning signs. Whether in-person or on social media, if you see a friend or loved one share signs of distress or threaten suicide, take it seriously and follow up.

Ask directly about suicide

Yes—directly ask your friend or loved one, "Are you thinking about suicide?" Asking will not put the idea into their head. You may not be able to understand what your friend is going through, but you can help get him or her through it. Be persistent but gentle as you ask questions and get answers. If your friend or loved one is having suicidal thoughts, immediately get help.

Find Help

It could be other friends or family, a religious leader, a resident advisor, campus police, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), or a national suicide prevention help line. Offer to call for help if they are reluctant. Or offer to accompany them to a first appointment. The first step is often the hardest. Learn about the resources available so you can provide your friend with options. Never leave your friend alone, if at all possible.

Take Care of Yourself

Peers reaching out to peers is one of the best strategies for suicide prevention. Students who are in distress are more likely to approach a friend or peer before talking to a professional. But helping a friend who is struggling with a mental health problem can be very stressful. Recognize your own personal limits and be aware of your own needs to stay healthy. You are a supportive friend, not a mental health care provider. It is not your responsibility to save someone. Your only responsibility is to care and get your friend to help. If you need help, ask!