Disclaimer: The following blog is an information resource only. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8355), the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741741, or on-demand emotional support resource, like TimelyMD.
The time following high school graduation is a pivotal moment — the excitement of becoming an adult, taking the next steps in life, and for many, starting college. The risk of suicide is the furthest thing from the mind of many college students. Yet, suicide is a leading cause of death among college students in the United States. Suicide is of significant concern for students of color and international students, who are at a disproportionately higher risk. As college students go through an unprecedented, stressful semester due to the global pandemic, it’s critical that students are informed and aware of the warning signs and steps to take if they or someone they know is considering suicide.
It’s not uncommon for some students to struggle with suicidal thoughts and mental health disorders. The additional stress of dealing with a global pandemic has resulted in social isolation, which just adds to the challenges faced by today’s college students. Experts suggest that the key to lowering the rates of death by suicide in young adults is educating students and administrators to recognize suicidal behavior, and to improve support resources for those who are at risk. Fortunately, higher education institutions are often proactive in comprehensive prevention planning to support students with many treatment options and educational resources.
Warning Signs and Risk Factors
Suicidal thoughts don’t normally come out of nowhere. There are many risk factors that can indicate that someone may be considering taking his or her own life. Knowing these warning signs can help students support a friend in a time of need. Research shows that four out of five college students exhibit clear warning signs prior to contemplating or attempting suicide. Five notable warning signs are:
- Withdrawing from friends, family and society.
- Dramatic changes in mood or personality.
- Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities.
- Inability to sleep or sleeping all the time.
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol.
According to The Jed Foundation (JED), a number of factors may put a person at increased risk of suicide, including:
- A prior suicide attempt.
- Prolonged stress.
- Recent tragedy.
- A serious medical illness or disability.
Feelings of isolation are particularly hard to escape for many students as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, with ongoing social distancing and quarantine measures still in place. Additionally, several schools are continuing remote or hybrid learning models that disconnect students from friends and campus communities. (If you are reading this and feel anxious or lonely, you are not alone!) In fact, 85% of college students say they’re feeling increased stress and anxiety during COVID-19.
“Be alert to your own stress level and that of other students around you,” said Dr. Jan Hall, executive director of mental health for TimelyMD. “Suicidal thinking has become more prevalent since the pandemic. Now is the time to draw close to each other and provide support.”
What to Do if You See Warning Signs
You may be asking what you can do if someone you know is considering suicide or showing warning signs. You can follow these five action steps from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
- ASK: Ask the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?” in a direct, unbiased manner. This opens the door to an honest, supportive conversation.
- BE THERE: It’s important to be present, whether that is in person, over the phone or via video chat.
- KEEP THEM SAFE: If the person has indicated he or she is considering suicide, put time and distance between the person and the chosen method.
- HELP THEM CONNECT: Connect the person with support via national hotlines and/or on campus resources, like a counseling center or virtual care through telehealth.
- FOLLOW UP: Do whatever you can to follow up and check in with the person — call, text, FaceTime — to see how he or she is doing and if more needs to be done.
“If you are concerned about someone, ask if he or she is having or has had suicidal thoughts,” said Dr. Hall. “If the answer is yes, stay with that person until you get help. If it is you having thoughts of suicide, then call someone — a friend, family member, campus counseling center, RA, campus security or 911. If you have access to an on-demand telehealth service like TimelyMD, you can use it to get immediate support.”
Students struggling with thoughts of suicide can cope with the bad days, find joy, and stay alive by seeking help during times of despair. First and foremost, be kind to yourself and others, and know that feeling broken isn’t bad. We recently shared ideas for college students to help maintain regular self-care and support personal mental health. Having a conversation about mental health might be uncomfortable, but it can make a world of difference to someone in need. Seize The Awkward is a great resource to help get the conversation started. You can also be an advocate for change through Active Minds’ “Your Voice is Your Power” campaign, which provides resources to help students push for a campus culture of caring and support specifically for students of color.
One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic has been the increased accessibility to utilize telehealth for mental health care. TimelyMD supports students with 24/7 mental health support that offers a diverse group of licensed counselors and behavioral health specialists via our TalkNow and Scheduled Counseling features. These services can be used for any kind of emotional support — from test anxiety to crisis situations.
(If you personally are thinking of harming yourself, please get help now by calling 911; going to the nearest emergency room; contacting your local health care provider, campus counseling service or campus security; or using on-demand emotional support resource, like TimelyMD)