“It will never get any better,” or “I can’t take it anymore”–sometimes phrases like these appear as posts on social media or comments in passing. Other times it’s behaviors such as being increasingly anxious, withdrawing from others, increasing drug/alcohol use, or expressing thoughts about wanting to die or feeling like a burden.
Combined together, these are signs that your peer, colleague, or loved one is experiencing intense emotional distress and could be at-risk for suicide. These verbal and behavioral cues are often a person’s invitation for support, and it is our job as a community to recognize these cues and get help.
It is estimated that 11% of college students seriously consider suicide annually, rendering suicide the second leading cause of death among college students nationally. And graduate students are at greater risk than undergraduates.
The good news? The vast majority of suicides are preventable and most people recover from suicidal thoughts.
If you notice the signs that a person might be in emotional distress, follow these steps:
Show you care. Express your concern for the person’s well-being. Say something like, “You mean a lot to me, and I want to help,” or “You really matter. I’d like to support you.”
Ask directly about suicide. Say something like, “Sometimes when people have lost interest in their work, are feeling hopeless, and are withdrawing from others, they’re thinking about suicide. Are you thinking about suicide?” Asking about suicide will not put the idea in someone’s head. It is perhaps the most critical step in suicide prevention.
Get support. If it is a UW student you are concerned about, call SafeCampus at 206.685.7233 (SAFE). If you are concerned about a non-UW student, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255 (TALK). This will route you to your local crisis center where the person in distress can receive a suicide risk assessment and will be connected to appropriate community resources. Encourage the person to call with you, but you can also call without him/her to seek expert advice on next steps. Please save both of these numbers in your cell phone! You never know when you might need them.
Restrict access to lethal means. Help to ensure that the person in distress does not have access to means that can be used in a suicide attempt, such as a firearm or large quantities of prescription medication.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, there is help available!
You can call SafeCampus or head over to the Counseling Center or Hall Health. Both have walk-in crisis counselors available during business hours from M-F, and you can also receive ongoing treatment there. Importantly, there is no shame in having these thoughts.
Now Matters Now is a fantastic public resource where people who have experienced suicidal thoughts share their clinically proven coping strategies.
For more information on how UW is working to prevent suicide, please visit:
Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention
This post’s guest author is Lauren Davis, Director of Higher Education and Senior Policy Analyst for Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention (School of Social Work) and an MPA student at the Evans School of Public Affairs.