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Suicide Prevention on Campus

Problems that precipitate suicide are usually temporary ones. Problems in romantic relationships, academics, and finances are stressful, especially for freshmen. This is one reason why college students are at high risk. Unfortunately, suicide is a permanent solution to these temporary issues. Review the University of Memphis Suicide Prevention Plan. Interested in suicide prevention training? Visit our QPR Suicide Prevention training page to learn more about getting trained. 

Things to look out for

  • Previous attempts
    4 out of 5 people who actually die by suicide have attempted suicide at least once previously.
  • Significant loss
    Any real or perceived loss such as a death, a relationship breakup, loss of status/prestige, or physical impairment. 
  • Alcohol or other drug abuse
    If a person cannot resist using a drug or control the amount used, there is a substance abuse problem.
  • Suicide plan
    The more specific the plan, the greater the risk.
  • Giving possessions away
  • Behaving recklessly 
  • Change in mood or demeanor
    Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain, being a burden to others, etc.
  • Talking about suicide
    This may be stated directly: "I'm going to kill myself." Or indirectly: "You would be better off without me," or "Soon you won't have to worry about me anymore."

There may be other indicators. If you have any doubt, please call

  • The Counseling Center for help at 901.678.2068.
  • After Hours therapist On Duty Urgent Crisis Services 901.678.4357 / 901.678.HELP
  • The National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1.800.273.TALK (8255)
  • Police Services 901.678.4357 / 901.678.HELP

Why Intervene?

Repeatedly, it has been found that when a person is prevented from completing suicide, he or she is extremely grateful later. With rare exception, a suicidal person is ambivalent about dying. Often, if the pain can be reduced even slightly, the person can find some hope and reconnect with a desire to live. The fewer suicide attempts someone makes, the less likely they are to ultimately die by suicide.

How You Can Help

You might have never directly dealt with a suicidal person. If such a situation presents itself, you might feel uncomfortable, helpless, or even overwhelmed. Despite these feelings, it is very important that you show support to this person: ask them about any suicidal thinking, and refer them to get help. Doing so can be the difference between life and death. Here are some simple steps to follow:

  • Listen, Listen, Listen
    We often undervalue the power of active listening. Help them to hear themselves by rephrasing their words and feelings. For example, "In other words, you're feeling/saying . . . "
  • Directly ask about suicidal intentions
    Ask, "Are you thinking about suicide?" You will not increase a person's risk of suicide by asking her/him directly about it. Studies show that such a question can be a relief to a person who is suicidal. He or she may actually welcome the chance to express painful feelings. Even if the person is not having suicidal thoughts, he/she is likely to appreciate your care and concern for them.
  • Avoid being judgmental or arguing about the moral issues regarding suicide
  • Take every complaint or reference to suicide seriously
  • Tell them that you care
    Show that you care, and express it: "I care about you." "You are important to me." Also avoid being judgmental or arguing about the moral issues regarding suicide.
  • Tell them that help is available and let them know how to seek help
    Let the individual know that help is available, help is effective, and that seeking help is the courageous thing to do. You could even offer to accompany them to their first appointment with a doctor or counselor, or could help them schedule the appointment.
  • Follow up with the individual you are concerned about
    Oftentimes people are uncomfortable talking to a suicidal person a second time because "they don't want to remind them of their misery," they "don't want to make them uncomfortable," or they figure "if they need to talk to me again, they will." The fact is that most people in distress feel like a burden to others, and are unlikely to bring this issue up again. It is important to let the individual know that you are still thinking about them and care about them, and, most importantly, it is important that you follow up to insure that they have received help.
  • Talk with others
    This is extremely important! Do not allow yourself to be the only one helping a suicidal person. Recognize the limits of your expertise and responsibility. Share your concerns with family, friends, or appropriate mental health professionals. Do not be bound by secrecy. An angry friend is better than a deceased one.
  • Be trained in QPR
    Question, Persuade, Refer Suicide Prevention training. QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) provides the life saving skills necessary to effectively and directly ask someone if they are suicidal, persuade them to get help and refer them to the appropriate professional. Check out our page to get trained in QPR!

Four Myths about Suicide

  1. Myth: People who talk about suicide don't commit suicide. Fact: Eight out of 10 people who die by suicide have verbalized their intent beforehand.
  2. Myth: Only certain types of people commit suicide. Fact: All types of people commit suicide: male and female, young and old, rich and poor. It happens in every racial, ethnic, and religious group.
  3. Myth: When a suicidal person begins to feel better, the danger is over. Fact: Most suicides occur within 90 days following improvement in the person's mental or emotional state.
  4. Myth: People who attempt suicide are just trying to get attention. Fact: The vast majority of people who threaten or attempt suicide are really reaching out for help. This in no way diminishes the potential lethality of their actions.

Suggested Reading

The Cultural Distinctions in Whether, When and How People Engage in Suicidal Behavior

Dunne, Edward, McIntosh, John and Dunne- Maxim, Karen. (Eds.). Suicide and Its Aftermath: Understanding and Counseling the Survivors. New York: W.W. Norton, 1987.

Linzer, Norman. Suicide: The Will To Live Vs. The Will To Die. New York: Human Science Press, 1984.

Lord, Janice Harris. No Time For Good-byes: Coping with Sorrow, Anger and Injustice After a Tragic Death. Ventura, Ca.: Path- finder Publishing, 1988.

Rosenthal, Howard. Not With My Life I Don't: Preventing Your Suicide and That of Others. Muncie, IN.: Accelerated Development, 1988.

Other Resources

The Trevor Project
Around-the-clock crisis and suicide prevention helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.