Recognizing when a peer is struggling with anxiety or depression is sometimes difficult. Fellow students, classmates, dorm residents, the person who sits next to you in church or your service/social club, plays athletics with you or sits by themselves in your dining area may struggle with worry, depression, loneliness and even thoughts of death or suicide.
Some common signs that might suggest a peer’s need for help include when they:
- Make comments about wanting to die, kill themselves or someone else, or death in general
- Do not see solutions to their problems/feel trapped
- Isolate/withdraw from friends, family or groups
- Express hopelessness
- Say that there is no purpose or reason to live
- Start collecting pills, weapons or ropes
- Increase consumption of alcohol and/or drugs
- Express intense physical or emotional pain
- Experience mood changes such as bouts of crying, agitation, anger
- Take risks that put them in harm’s way, such as driving recklessly or are out late in unsafe places
- Start saying goodbye to people at inappropriate times
- Have major sleep issues (beyond the college norm)
- Give away personal items of importance to them or get affairs in order
Getting Help – Connect, Ask, Stay
There are ways that you can help your friends, family or peers in need. First, connect with the person. Ask how they are doing. Specifically, ask if the person is having any thoughts of hurting or killing themselves or anyone else. All of the above signs are common in people with suicidal ideation. Asking shows concern; asking does not appear to increase suicidal thoughts. Do not promise to keep suicidal thoughts a secret. Let them know you want to assist them in getting help. Stay with them until you get them to help if you are with someone who is talking about killing themselves.
For campus resources, find the numbers below for your university:
- Campus Police 24 hr #
- TimelyMD (24 hours): Login at timely.care or call 833-484-6359
- Campus Counseling Center
- Psychology Clinic
- Marriage & Family Institute
- Title IX Office for Sexual Violence
- Dorm Supervisor/Housing Director
If a person is in moderate distress and not having thoughts of killing themselves or someone else, support them while they get help. For example, have them call the campus counseling center or login to TimelyMD (24 hours) or another campus resource for an appointment.
Besides professional support, if the person has another friend, family member, church member/pastor, dorm supervisor, faculty or staff that seems supportive to them, suggest they contact that person.
When a person is in distress, they need a sense of connection, support and belonging. See the powerful video below, “You Belong,” by Mental Health of America Texas.
Following up may include walking with your friend to their appointment at the counseling center, making a time to meet for a coffee/snack or meal, meeting after class, inviting them to a social or church gathering or calling them to see how life is going. If you ask how they are doing, it’s important to be ready to listen. When someone is down, ask about what is going well. Recognizing even small positive happenings is helpful!
Mental Health of America Texas. You Belong. Video developed under Contract No. 2012-039469-001 for Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to Mental Health America of Texas (MAAT). https://youtu.be/UeJL9F-4rNA
Texas Suicide Prevention Council (2019). ASK? Ask About Suicide to Save a Life. https://texassuicideprevention.org/training/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health (2018). Suicide in America: Frequently Asked Questions (NIH Publication No. 18-6389). Retrieved from http//.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-faq/index.shtml
Janice A. Hall Ph.D.
Director of Mental Health/TimelyMD