Assessing suicide risk is a difficult task even for “seasoned” professionals. Keep in mind that your task is not to assess risk. As a caring person your task is to listen, observe, and then respond. Here are some indicators for concern that you may hear or see.
Have you heard:
“I can’t fail this class my whole life is on the line.”
“I’ll never fit in; nobody would be my friend anyway.”
“I can’t stand the pressure anymore.”
“Take my CD player and CD’s. I don’t need this stuff anymore.”
“Life isn’t worth living.”
“I won’t be around to deal with that.”
“If he/she breaks up with me, I won’t go on.”
“My family would be better off without me.”
“I feel there is no way out.”
“Nobody understands me or feels the way I do. It’s hopeless.”
Have you observed:
Excessive interest in movies, books, music about suicide.
Giving away important possessions of personal or monetary value.
Total disregard for self, hygiene, dress, activities, classwork.
Signs of planning a suicide: writing farewell messages, stocking up on pills,
obtaining a weapon, etc.
Withdrawal from friends and family
Feelings of worthlessness, extreme guilt, helplessness
Thoughts of death or wishes to be dead
Diminished ability to think, concentrate, make easy decisions
Take it seriously. 70% of people give a warning sign. Don’t discount or ignore a behavior even if you believe it is “just for attention.” When ignored or discounted, some people will escalate in their attention-seeking behavior and end up making fatal mistakes. Also take it seriously because there is no foolproof way of distinguishing between “ just attention-seeking” and a serious level of risk.
Be willing to listen. Even if professional help is needed, a person is often more willng to seek help if you have listened to him or her first.
Do voice your concern. Take the initiative to ask what is troubling the person and attempt to overcome any reluctance on their part to talk about it.
Do let the person know you care. Give reassurance that he or she is not alone. Explain that support and help is available.
Do ask the person if they have thought about or have a specific plan. Asking about suicide will not cause a person to think about or commit suicide. This is a myth.
Do get professional help as soon as possible. If you need assistance contact either the Residence Life person on duty, Campus Security (8011), or the Appalachian Health Crisis Line (472-2022). If there is a medical emergency contact 911 immediately.
If you are unsure, uncomfortable, or unable to take action, share your concerns with a member of the Health and Counseling Center staff, a colleague, a supervisor, or a responsible friend.
Don’t assume the situation will take care of itself.
Don’t be sworn to secrecy.
Don’t act shocked or surprised at what the person says.
Don’t challenge or dare.
Don’t argue or debate moral issues.
Don’t condemn or criticize.
Don’t assume you completely understand and know exactly how the other person feels.