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The Issue of Suicide

Suicide on Campus

Problems that precipitate suicide are usually temporary ones–unfortunately, suicide is a permanent solution to these temporary troubles. Life’s difficulties can be extremely painful and may appear to last forever; however, better times do happen. Survivors of attempted suicide consistently express relief that their attempt failed. Tragically, increasing numbers of young adults are choosing this option.

A recent study shows that over the last 30 years the suicide rate in young people has more than tripled. The most dramatic increase in the suicide rate has occurred in the 15 to 24 age bracket (up 312%), followed by the 20- to 24-year-old age group (up 163%)–both traditional college-age groups. The most sobering statistic is that suicide is second only to automobile accidents as the leading cause of death among 18- to 24-year-olds.

Leaving familiar community and family support systems and adjusting to the demands and responsibilities of a new environment is stressful, especially for freshmen. This is one reason why college students are at high risk.

No one can afford to ignore such a troublesome reality. This brochure is written to encourage the student to seek non-destructive solutions to the stress of modern times and to reaffirm the sanctity of life.

Why Intervene?

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 only slightly, the person will want to live and can proceed to have a rich and rewarding life.

Suicide leaves a wide path of destruction: it not only hurts the targets of possible anger but also those people the student cares about. In Nancy O’Malley’s book, Suicide on Campus, James Rhem states, “Suicide hurts us all. When a student kills himself in a dorm, the whole campus is affected. His fellow students, his teacher, his resident advisor all feel the loss in some way or another. It challenges each of them, each of us. Clearly, we must work together against suicide not just for the sake of the victims but for all our sakes.”

Within the limits of our human capabilities, we work to minimize the possibility of a suicide because life is a precious gift. Creative problem-solving approaches and/or other resources permit living options to troublesome issues.

Warning Signs

Although no one can predict with 100% accuracy who will attempt suicide and when, the following signals may indicate a risk of suicide. Generally speaking, the more warning signs present, the greater the risk of suicidal behavior.


Signs of clinical depression include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and/or worthlessness
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Significant appetite loss or gain
  • Decreased interest or pleasure in previously enjoyable activities
  • Themes of death in artwork, poetry and/or conversation

Previous Attempts:

4 out of 5 who actually commit suicide have tried to do so at least once previously.

Significant Loss:

Any real or perceived loss such as a relationship breakup, loss of status/prestige, death, or physical impairment.

Alcohol or Other Drug Abuse:

If a person cannot say “No” to a drug or control the amount used, there is a substance abuse problem.

Suicide Plan:

The more specific the plan, the more serious the intent.

Talking About Suicide:

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.”

A Few Myths About Suicide

Myth: People who talk about suicide don’t commit suicide.
Fact: Eight out of 10 people who have killed themselves have verbalized their intent beforehand.

Myth: Only certain types of people commit suicide.
Fact: All types of people commit suicide-male and female, young and old, rich and poor, country people and city people. It happens in every racial, ethnic and religious group.

Myth: When a suicidal person begins to feel better, the danger is over.
Fact: Most suicides occur within 90 days following improvement in the person’s mental-emotional status.

Myth: People who attempt suicide are merely looking for attention.
Fact: People who threaten or attempt suicide are really reaching out for help. Calling this manipulative in no way diminishes the potential lethality of their actions.

How You Can Help

Many students have never directly dealt with a suicidal person. When such a situation presents itself, they are likely to feel helpless and overwhelmed. The following guidelines are presented to help provide a sense of direction and facilitate the helping process.

Recognize the warning signals.

Listen, Listen, Listen. We often undervalue the power of active listening. Help them to hear themselves by rephrasing their words and feelings. For example, “In other words, you’re feeling/saying . . . ”

Be supportive. Show that you care. “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.

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 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. An added note: Protect yourself. If the person is armed, leave the premises and call the police.

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 staff members. Do not 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 life saving 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.

Recommended Reading

Capuzzi, Dave and Golden, Larry. Preventing Adolescent Suicide. Muncie, IN.: Accelerated Development, 1988.

Dunne, Edward, McIntosh, John and Dunne- Maxim, Karen. (Eds.). Suicide and Its Aftermath: Understanding and Counseling the Survivors. New York: W.W. Norton, 1987.

Linzer, Norman. Suicide: The Will To Live Vs. The Will To Die. New York: Human Science Press, 1984.

Lord, Janice Harris. No Time For Good-byes: Coping with Sorrow, Anger and Injustice After a Tragic Death. Ventura, Ca.: Path- finder Publishing, 1988.

Rosenthal, Howard. Not With My Life I Don’t: Preventing Your Suicide and That of Others. Muncie, IN.: Accelerated Development, 1988.

Suicide Prevention Hotline

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention service available to anyone in suicidal crisis. If you need help, please dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will be routed to the closest possible crisis center in your area.

Sources of Help at UT

University of Tennessee Student Counseling Center
Walk-in hours 10:00 am to 3:00 pm weekdays (Fall and Spring)

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

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


This brochure was designed and produced originally in a print version for The Counseling & Mental Health Center at The University of Texas at Austin. It was written by Jane Bost, Ph.D. It is published here with the University of Texas at Austin Counseling & Mental Health Center’s permission.