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College Students and Suicide

Suicide Prevention Hotline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention
service available to anyone in crisis.


Crisis Text Line

Text TN or HOME to 741741

Sources of Help at UT

UT HelpLine: 865-974-HELP (4357) available 24/7

University of Tennessee Student Counseling Center

For evening & weekend emergencies call:
Mobile Crisis 539-2409
UT Emergency Room 544-9401
Police or Ambulance 911

Suicide on Campus

Talking about suicide might make us uncomfortable, but it’s important. The more we understand about people who are thinking about suicide, the more we can help. Life’s difficulties can be extremely painful and may appear to last forever or be unsolvable. But survivors of attempted suicide consistently express relief to still be alive.

Students may have heightened vulnerability to mental health crises due to the significance of the change and transitions in their lives, sometimes paired with depression, anxiety, or underdeveloped coping skills. Mental health issues often first appear between the ages of 18 and 25, so a student’s time at college and this increased risk period coincide.
We believe that suicide is not inevitable. When we talk, and allow others to share with us, we provide hope and support to people in pain. We can help prevent suicide.

Risk factors are personal or situational events or characteristics that increase the likelihood of someone thinking about suicide. They are not predictors of suicide.
• Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
• Alcohol and other substance use disorders
• Hopelessness
• Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
• History of trauma or abuse
• Major physical illnesses
• Previous suicide attempt(s)
• Family history of suicide
• Job or financial loss
• Loss of relationship(s)
• Easy access to lethal means
• Local clusters of suicide
• Lack of social support and sense of isolation
• Stigma associated with asking for help
• Lack of healthcare, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
• Cultural and religious beliefs, such as the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma
• Exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via the media and Internet)

People may or may not give “warning signs” – indicators that they are thinking about suicide. Be alert to changes after a life change, a painful event, or one of more of the risk factors above.

• Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves. This may be stated directly–“I’m going to kill myself.” Or indirectly– “You would be better off without me,” or, “Soon you won’t have to worry about me anymore.”
• Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun. The more specific the plan, the more serious the intent.
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Talking about being a burden to others
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
• Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Withdrawing or isolating themselves
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
• Extreme mood swings

It can feel overwhelming when someone shares with you that they are having thoughts of suicide. Know that you don’t have to have all the answers or know how to provide any “therapy” to them.

Listen, Listen, Listen. We often undervalue the power of active listening.
Reflect/rephrase: Help them know you are listening by rephrasing their words and feelings. For example, “In other words, you’re feeling/saying . . . ”, “When your mom said that, it was painful for you…”

Be supportive. Show that you care by being present with them. Say, “I care about you.” “You are important to me.”

Avoid being judgmental or arguing about the moral issues regarding suicide.

Take every complaint or reference to suicide seriously. Don’t dismiss or minimize the person’s comments by indicating “things are not that bad” or “you don’t really mean that.”

Be direct when addressing suicidal intentions: Ask: “John, are you thinking about suicide?” If the person is suicidal, studies show that such a question can be a relief. He or she may actually welcome the chance to express painful feelings. If the person is not suicidal, you have expressed care and concern.

Evaluate the immediate risk, if you can. If the person is experiencing suicidal thoughts, check out the next three predictors of immediate risk:
• the presence of a suicide plan,
• possession of means for suicide, and
• a time schedule.
With the presence of each progressive predictor, the chances of immediate harm increase. Specifically ask: “Do you have a plan?” “Do you have the means (pills, a knife, or something else)?” “When do you plan to kill yourself?” Never leave a person alone who has secured a means for suicide.

Talk with others. This is extremely important! Do not allow yourself to be the only one helping a suicidal person. Recognize the limits of your expertise and responsibility. Share your concerns with appropriate residence hall staff, faculty, 865-974-HELP, or the Student Counseling Center. Do not agree to be bound by secrecy. An angry friend is better than a dead one.

Be trained in QPR -Question, Persuade, Refer Suicide Prevention training. QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) provides the lifesaving skills necessary to effectively and directly ask someone if they are suicidal, persuade them to get help and refer them to the appropriate professional. The State of Tennessee and the University of Tennessee have adopted QPR for training in suicide prevention and education.

Repeatedly, research has shown that when a person is prevented from suicide, they are grateful later. With rare exception, a person thinking about suicide is ambivalent about dying. Often, if the pain can be reduced only slightly, the person will want to live and can proceed to have a rich and rewarding life.
Intervention recognizes the power of caring and the belief in our capacity to change and grow.



The University of Tennessee is a JED Campus, a partnership between JED and a campus that focuses on comprehensive systems, program and policy development with customized support to build upon existing student mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention efforts.  JED Campus also provides an online training called Ask – Listen – Refer for training in how to help a person who is having thoughts of suicide.  Please take 20 minutes to engage in Ask-Listen- Refer!