Faculty Intervention Guide

Basic Facts:
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students. The number one cause of suicide for college student suicides (and all suicides) is untreated depression. Being aware of the mental health concerns of students is critical. It is sad that one in five college students believe that their depression level is higher than it should be, yet only 6% say that they would seek help.

Students face many challenges when they go to college. It is a difficult transition period. Students can feel lost, lonely, confused, anxious, inadequate, and stressed. These problems may lead to depression or some other mental health condition. American College Health Association (ACHA, 2013) research cites that many student survey respondents struggle with the following problem areas: Stress (30.5%), Sleep Difficulties (22%), Anxiety (21%), and Depression (12.8%).

Not everybody exhibits these warning signs but 75% do. Faculty, staff and students need to be aware of what the suicide warning signs are so they can spot someone who may desperately need their help.

Identifying Students in Need

Warning Signs:
• Appear sad, hopeless, fearful
• Make direct reference to suicide
• Appear to be “under the influence”
• Are absent from class and are performing poorly
• Seem unable to accept praise or feel success
• Appear withdrawn, isolated or moody
• Have difficulty focusing
• Appear to have difficulty eating and sleeping
• Are feeling strong anger or rage.
• Are exhibiting a change in personality.
• Are losing interest in most activities.
• Are giving away prized possessions.
• Are acting recklessly

Risk Factors:
• Divorce of parents or loss of any major relationship
• Death of a loved one – especially if it was a suicide
• Loss of a job
• Low self esteem
• Feeling helpless
• Academic probation or dismissal
• Financial problems
• Identity confusion
• Victim of assault or bullying
• Difficulty adjusting to change
• Struggling with a serious illness
• Previous suicide attempts
• Substance abuse
• Depression or other mental health challenge
• Feelings of not being accepted by family, friends or society

How You Can Help:
A distressed or suicidal student may not directly ask for help.  It doesn’t mean that they do not want or need your help. This is why it is so important to be familiar with the risk factors and warning sign for suicide so you will be able to spot those in trouble.

If you feel there is reason for concern, reach out and talk to them. 

Consider the following:

·        Show empathy and concern:  Tell the student that you are concerned, and show them that you are concerned. A suicidal person is extremely vulnerable and needs to feel your concern and reassurance that things will be okay.

·        Listen, listen, and listen. Be gentle, kind and understanding: Work with the student so they begin to trust you and feel open to share what they are going through.

·        Timing: Allow yourself and the student plenty of time to talk.

·        Don’t be judgmental: Judgment may make the student feel as if they can’t freely disclose things to you.

·        Let the student share whatever emotion they are feeling:  Allow the student to cry, swear, or do what is necessary to release emotion.  However, do not allow the person to become violent or harm himself or herself.

·        Location:  Meet privately in a space where you will not be interrupted but be close enough to support staff in case you need to call for help.

·        It is important to be action oriented if the situation calls for it.  If you feel the student may be a danger to him or herself or to others, contact appropriate resources immediately.  Take the threat of suicide and potential harm to others seriously.

·        If someone is in immediate danger call your mental health unit, health center, the campus police or 911.

·        Be sure and follow-up with the student to make sure he or she is okay.


LOOK for areas of concern:  This would include looking for the suicide warning signs and risk factors mentioned above.

INQUIRE: Talk openly about suicide.

Directly ask the person, "Are you feeling so bad that you are thinking about suicide?"

If the answer is yes, ask, "Have you thought about how you would do it?"

If the answer is yes, ask, "Do you have what you need to do it?"

If the answer is yes, ask, "Have you thought about when you would do it?"

NOTE the level of risk. If a student is thinking about suicide, has a plan, has the means to carry out the plan and has a timeline for doing it you know that this student is in crisis and needs immediate help.  After this determination is made it is important to not the leave the student alone – not even for a second.

KNOW your on-campus and off-campus resources:  Immediately contact your college Mental Health Site, Health Center, campus police or call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK.

- Last Updated: 1/8/16