How You Can Help
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. When you notice the warning signs of suicidal thinking, you should check in with your student/friend. Here are the ABC’s of how to help:
Ask directly about suicide
When you ask your student/friend if they are thinking about suicide, you should be direct and use words such as “suicide” or “killing yourself”. You will not increase the student’s risk of suicide by asking her/him directly about it. He or she may actually welcome the chance to express their painful feelings. A major goal of responding to students in crisis is helping them feel understood. If your student/friend is feeling suicidal, being direct will help him/her feel understood. Using the word “suicide” in this manner, will signal to our students/friends that it’s safe to talk about suicide. This is be said by asking, “Are you thinking about suicide?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
Be there for your student/friend
When approaching a student/friend who is showing signs of a problem or dealing with emotional distress, it is important to be patient and supportive. You may not be able to understand how your student/friend is feeling and it may seem uncomfortable or awkward to discuss personal and emotional issues, but you can listen and let them know they aren’t alone. Here are some ways this can be done:
Allow your student/friend to express whatever they’re feeling. Help them to feel heard and understood. Your role is not to counsel them through this crisis, but to be a good listener – use your active listening skills. Don’t rush to judgment. Keep in mind that suicide isn’t the problem. It’s the perceived solution to what to what seems to be an unsolvable problem(s).
Tell them 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.
While we’re not advocating for you to use these exact words, here are some concepts you may find helpful when communicating with your friend/student:
We all go through rough times.
Sometimes people see asking for help as a sign of weakness. So you can confront your student/friend by giving them an example of a time you or someone you know struggled and needed support.
You can feel better.
Your student/friend may feel hopeless or like no one can understand or help them, so it’s important to make him/her see that reaching out for support is the first step to feeling better. Mental health problems are treatable and manageable once identified, so sometimes we need a mental health check-up in the same way we get other medical exams.
It’s OK to ask for help.
Remember, that our backgrounds, cultures and experiences can have a huge impact on how we view help-
seeking. Some people may come from families or ethnic groups where asking for help or seeking a mental health
professional is shunned or thought of as weak. Thinking about why a friend might be reluctant to get help can be
important in deciding how to suggest they reach out for support.
Connect to Resources
While it is rare, there may be some situations where emergency help is necessary.
The following circumstances call for immediate action and attention. You should call 9-1-1 if you notice your student/friend:
- has a weapon and is threatening to use it. If this is the case, make sure you leave the room immediately for your own safety.
- is threatening immediate harm to him/herself (e.g., jumping out of a window, stepping in front of traffic)
- has engaged in a behavior that requires medical attention (e.g., has taken pills, has cut themselves)
In situations where it is not an emergency it is still important that you don’t try and deal with this alone. This means connecting your student/friend to a mental health professional.
Talk with others. This is extremely important! Do not allow yourself to be the only one helping a suicidal student/friend. Recognize the limits of your expertise and responsibility. Share your concerns with family, friends, or appropriate staff members.
Let your student/friend 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 counselor, or could help them schedule the appointment. The Counseling and Consultation Center is available M-F 8:30-5:30 for urgent walk-in appointments for students in serious distress. You could walk to the Counseling and Consultation Center with them, or give them the phone number to call (512.505.3046).
If you’re still concerned, and the student is not willing to seek help, call the call Austin-Travis County Integral Care’s 24/7 Crisis Hotline at 512.472.HELP (4357). Do not be bound by secrecy. An angry friend is better is better than a dead one.
Follow up with your student/friend that you’re 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 your student/friend 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.