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How to Help: Suicide Prevention

As many as 75% of those who kill themselves give some warning of their intentions. The most effective way to prevent suicide is to learn how to recognize the signs of someone at risk, take those sign seriously, and know how to respond to them.

The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare has created an excellent infographic regarding suicide prevention.

The Jason Foundation offers a free smart phone app that helps provide the information, tools and resources to help a friend (or yourself) who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide.

Know the danger signals:

  1. Depression: Most suicidal people are depressed. Be especially concerned if at least five of the following symptoms have been present nearly every day for two weeks or longer:
    Low mood Fatigue or loss of energy
    Change in sleep (too much/little) Diminished ability to think or concentrate
    Change in appetite or weight Feelings of worthlessness or self-reproach
    Low motivation and activity level Thoughts of death or suicide
    Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities Feelings of hopelessness or desperation
    Withdrawal from family and friends Boredom or apathy
    Increased alcohol or drug use Irritability, anger and interpersonal conflict
    1. Feeling anxious, agitated, and/or angry along with depression.
    1. A recent significant loss, crisis, or perceived failure.
    1. Talking about death or suicide. People who kill themselves have often talked about suicide directly or indirectly. Be alert to statements like:
      • My family/friends would be better off without me.
      • I won't be around to deal with that.
      • Life isn't worth it anymore.
      • If he/she breaks up with me, I won't go on.
      • There's nothing I can do to make things better.
      • There's no way out.
    1. Planning for suicide, which may be signaled by:
      • Excessive interest in music, books, or movies about suicide
      • Giving away prized possessions
      • Writing farewell letters/emails or a suicide note
      • Obtaining a weapon, stockpiling pills, or otherwise acquiring the means to suicide
    1. Previous suicide attempts: Those who have made attempts are at much higher risk for actually taking their lives.

    What is an emergency?

    Any one of the following signs constitutes an emergency requiring immediate professional help. The more of these signs that are present, the greater the imminent risk of suicide.

    Statements that express:

    • Hopelessness: My life is hopeless.
    • Sense of intolerable emotional pain: I can't stand the pain anymore.
    • Helplessness: I can't solve any of this.
    • Unlovability: I don't deserve to live.
    • Frequent and intense thoughts of suicide.
    • Thoughts about a specific method or plan for suicide.
    • Active behaviors to acquire the means or to otherwise prepare for suicide.
    • Statements of intent to suicide.
    • Any kind of self-harm (taking pills, cutting wrists, etc.), even if you are uncertain that this action represents a suicide attempt or the person denies suicidal intent.

    What To Do in an Emergency

    1. Do not leave your friend alone. If you need to leave your friend to get help, call someone to stay with him/her.
    2. Do not allow your friend to leave. Especially do not allow your friend to get in his/her car.   
    3. Tell your friend that you need to get him/her professional help immediately.
    4. During business hours (weekdays, 8 a.m. - 12 p.m.; 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.) contact the Counseling Service (563)387-1375, Larsen Hall).
    5. After business hours, contact one of the following:
      • Your RA or the RA on duty
      • Your hall director
      • Security (563)387-2111

    Special Considerations in Support and Referral

    1. Do not be sworn to secrecy.
    2. Ask directly if your friend is considering suicide by such questions as:
      • Have you thought of not wanting to live anymore?
      • Are you thinking about killing yourself?
      • How often are you thinking about suicide? How strong are your thoughts?
      • Have you thought about how you would do it?
    3. Do not attempt to argue your friend out of suicide. Do say that you don't want your friend to die, that there are other ways to deal with the pain, and that professional help is available.
    4. Do not try to take responsibility for your friend's safety. Involve a professional who can assess risk and make plans for your friend's safety.
    5. If the situation is not an emergency, do your best to get your friend to the counseling service very soon, preferably the next day. Go with your friend if necessary.
    6. Ask to talk with the counselor yourself to share your concerns about your friend. If your friend is considering suicide, it is imperative the counselor knows this and your friend may feel unable to share that information.
    7. If your friend refuses counseling, contact the Counseling Service  yourself to consult about how to get help for your friend.