Written by: Tiffany Bartell, PhD, LPC MHSP
Trigger Warning: The topic of suicide is discussed in detail in this article.
Editor’s note: The following article was written in partnership with Counseling Services.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and this month is Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide can be an uncomfortable topic for many, but it is an important one to discuss and explore.
I have often told new counselors that it is a question of “when” not “if” they will encounter a client experiencing suicidal ideation in their clinical practice. It has become increasingly apparent that most adults will come in contact with suicidal thoughts either personally or with someone near them. It is important to feel comfortable broaching these conversations and confident in how to help yourself or someone else experiencing a mental health crisis.
Our thoughts and feelings are the “pain” of the brain, and it can be helpful to use them as indicators of how our mental health is doing. If I wake up in the morning looking forward to the day with a sense of contentment and energy, I know that I am feeling well physically, emotionally and mentally. If I wake up in the morning and dread going to class or seeing people and feel that no matter what I do the day is going to go poorly, then I know that I am not feeling well. If I experience thoughts of hopelessness and wish I had not woken up or that something would happen to me so I would not wake again, then I know that I am dangerously sick, and I need to seek help.
Part of the work of suicide prevention is destigmatizing and demystifying both asking for help and the process of seeking help. During the pandemic, 19% of surveyed college students experienced suicidal thoughts, according to the Jed Foundation. That means that almost two out of every 10 students experienced suicidal thoughts or even urges to harm or kill themselves.
With the current prevalence of mental illness and statistics such as this one, the importance of knowing how to handle these types of situations has only increased. If you find yourself having suicidal thoughts, the first thing to do is tell someone. Here at Southern, you will never get in trouble for reaching out for help, and your professors, deans, RAs, mentors and LifeGroup coaches have all been trained how to help you get connected to services if you are struggling with your mental health. Making contact with someone outside yourself is the first step.
If you are on campus, reach out to Campus Safety, which will then connect you with the counseling team. Our counseling team is highly trained on how to walk you through this process, and we encourage you to reach out. If you are not on campus, calling 911 or 988 (the national suicide hotline) are also options, as well as driving to the nearest emergency room. Your future self will thank you for the brave and courageous act of getting help.
If a friend or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts (or you suspect they are), the first step is to listen without judgment. It is key to ask clear questions, such as, “Are you having thoughts of hurting or killing yourself?” Then, when they share their truth with you, it is important to thank them for trusting you and then work to connect them with a staff member, such as a counselor, residence hall dean or faculty member who will connect them with appropriate help.
Never leave someone who is suicidal alone, and keep in mind that your role is simply to be the bridge between them and the services they need. Remember, we do not keep secrets that have to do with health or safety. In addition, once they are safely with the people who can help them, be sure to connect with a counselor or someone you trust to debrief on how you feel and what happened to you in the situation.
Thinking about encountering this kind of situation can be overwhelming, but remember that each one of us is worthy of support and care in the hardest times of life. Here at Southern, you are surrounded by a community of support.