Suicide Can Be Prevented
It's hard to recognize pain. But knowing the signs and how to react will help. Find the words. Reach out.
Know the Signs
By knowing the signs of distress, such as academic, physical and/or emotional changes, plus other risk factors, you can help prevent suicides. It starts with knowledge.
Signs of Distress
- Sudden decline in quality of work and grades
- Repeated absences
- Disturbing content in writing or presentations (e.g., violence, death)
- Meetings and conversations become more personal rather than academic counseling
- Marked changes in physical appearance including deterioration in grooming, hygiene, or weight (loss/gain)
- Excessive fatigue/sleep disturbance
- Intoxication, hangovers, or smelling of alcohol at inappropriate times
- Disoriented or “out of it”
- Self-disclosure of personal distress that could include family problems, financial difficulties, depression, grief, or thoughts of suicide
- Excessive tearfulness, panic reactions, irritability, or unusual apathy
- Verbal abuse (e.g., taunting, badgering, intimidation)
- Expressions of concern about the student by their peers
- Unprovoked anger or hostility
- Making implied or direct threats to harm self or others
- Academic assignments dominated by themes of extreme hopelessness, rage, worthlessness, isolation, despair, acting out, suicidal ideations, violent behaviors
Warning Signs of Suicide
- Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves (e.g., “I wish I were dead;” “I’m going to end it all;” “I’m going to kill myself.”)
- Preparing for ways to end their life (e.g., internet search on overdose, purchasing a gun, stockpiling pills, putting personal affairs in order, giving away prized possessions)
- Expressing hopelessness or feeling like there is no reason for living (e.g., “What’s the point in trying anymore?” “I can’t go on anymore.”)
- Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain (“I don’t know what to do anymore;” “There is nothing I can do to change this;” “I just want this pain to end”)
- Talking about being a burden to others (e.g., “My family would be better off without me;” “They shouldn’t have to take care of me anymore.”)
- Increasing alcohol or drug use
- Showing anxiety, agitation, recklessness or mood swings
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Showing rage or talking about revenge (‘I want to prove to my family my pain is real.’)
- Socially withdrawing
Characteristics associated with suicide behaviors
- Previous suicide attempt(s)
- Knowing someone who died by suicide
- Alcohol or substance misuse/abuse
- Mental disorders, particularly depression and bipolar disorder
- Chronic illness or disability
- Access to lethal means
- Inadequate access to mental health and substance abuse treatment
- Stigma against help seeking
- Social isolation and lack of social support
- Relationship loss Job or finance loss, including anticipated loss
- Death of a loved one
- An arrest
- Experienced prejudice or discrimination
Find the Words
Now you know the signs. And it may be difficult to talk about, but a conversation can open the door to life-saving measures. Here are some steps and phrases to start strong.
- Find a private and quiet place to talk.
- Sit or stand at the same level.
- Hold a gentle eye contact if it’s appropriate for you and their culture.
- Speak slowly and gently, while being authentic you.
- Try to remain calm, but it’s OK if you become tearful.
- In-person: Invite by asking if they can talk for a moment
- “Can we talk for a bit in private?”
- “Do you have time to meet with me for a few minutes?”
- In an email: Invite by expressing your concern and ask if they will be open to scheduling a meeting with you.
- Respect their space and express you care.
- “OK, but I want you to know I’m here for you if you want to talk later.”
- “OK, you don’t have to talk to me, but let me know if you want me to help you get connected to someone else to talk to, like a professional.”
- “Is there someone else you might feel comfortable to talk to instead?”
- Keep the line of communications open.
- Follow up later.
- Call 911 if it is emergency.
- Consider filing a Student of Concern report.
If the Person IS Willing to Talk
Follow the seven step conversation outline and try using the examle phrases to help express concern and care.
Start the conversation by expressing your concern and explain why you are worried (give concrete examples/reasons).
- “I’m worried about you because ...”
- “I care about you and I noticed lately you are ...”
- “How are you doing?”
- “Is everything OK?”
- “What’s going on?”
- Avoid interrupting.
- Avoid jumping to giving advice or problem solving.
- Give non-verbal encouragement to show you’re listening (nodding, eye contact, gentle facial expression).
- Give verbal encouragement when needed (responses like “uh-huh;” “tell me more;” and “take your time”).
- “How’s that affecting you?”
- “What’s that like for you?”
- “How are you feeling about that?”
- “This is important, and I want to make sure I’m understanding you correctly.”
- “It seems like .... Is that accurate?”
- “Can you say more about ...?”
- “It sounds painful.”
- “I see you are hurting.”
- “I can see you are really nervous.”
- “I can see this makes you sad.”
- “I feel your frustration.”
- “I can empathize with your fear.”
- “It sounds really rough for you. Do you have any thoughts of suicide?”
- “Have you been thinking about ending your life?”
- “It’s not uncommon for people to think about dying when they’re down. Have you thought about suicide recently?”
Remain supportive and follow-up.
- “I’m glad you’re not feeling that way, but please know I’m here for you if you start noticing those thoughts.”
- “OK, but you don’t have to be suicidal to ask for professional help, and I think it might still be helpful if you talk to a therapist.”
They need to get connected to a professional support immediately. Call CAPS together (or their therapist if they already have one in the community).
- “Thank you for telling me. I am worried about you and want to help you get the support you need. Can we call CAPS together?”
- If the situation appears imminent (i.e., you think they may attempt suicide soon), call 911.
- If they do not want to connect with professional support, file a Student of Concern report.
- “Thank you for trusting me to share that. I want to help you stay safe. Are you thinking about taking an action to end your life very soon? “
- “I’m really concerned. Can I drive you to the Emergency Room so we can make sure you get the help you need?”
- Express your care and desire to help
- Ask what they need
- Connect them to resources
- End the conversation by thanking them for sharing and offering to follow-up (if it seems appropriate).
Help starts here. Get familiar with the following resources to help connect those in need.
Where to Seek Help
Access local law enforcement in an emergency or for off-campus welfare checks.
Access to welfare checks and concerns on Logan Campus.
833-372-3388 | Available on Apple and Android DevicesThe SafeUT app is free and provides 24/7 access to crisis counseling with trained therapists via text or phone, and offers a tip line.
Attend a Suicide Prevention Training
While suicide is one of the leading causes of death for students in Utah, we are actively working to change that. USU HELPS is Helping Everyone Learn to Prevent Suicide through prevention trainings and support services.
Suicide Prevention Resources
This campaign was adapted from the California Know the Signs (suicideispreventable.org) social marketing campaign funded by counties through the Mental Health Services Act and administered by the California Mental Health Services Authority.