SIP 5.12 What To Do When Students Talk To You About Suicide

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College can be stressful time for many students. Most students at the college level are in the process of developing careers, relationships, life goals and their own individual identities. Nontraditional students are often juggling family and work demands in addition to their course work. In the college community, about 10 percent of the students may be distressed by depression, acute anxiety, drug or alcohol abuse, or more serious conditions.

Faculty and staff are often the first to recognize that a student may not be functioning well emotionally. Students may turn to you because of your position and the respect they hold for you as a faculty or staff member. Faculty members and staff are in a good position to spot an emotionally troubled student. You may observe that at certain times of the year, particularly during examinations and holidays, students experience increased anxiety and depression and may discuss thoughts about suicide with you.

Take a SIP of This: What to Do When Students Talk to You about Suicide

According to the CDC, there were 41,149 suicides in 2013 in the United States– this is equal to 113 suicides each day or one every 13 minutes. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. Individuals who contemplate suicide are not crazy or unstable. Most are experiencing extreme depression and/or stress and may think of suicide as a means of escape from pain. Some students are reticent to reach out for help with this struggle, while others may voluntarily share their thoughts of possible self-harm. By reaching out and communicating with someone about suicide, they are in essence looking for a way to communicate their feelings. Any opportunity to do so should be encouraged.


  • Express your concern in non-judgmental terms.
  • Listen to the student and repeat the main point of what the student is saying.
  • Respect the student’s value system.
  • Ask if the student is considering suicide.
  • Take the student seriously. 80 percent of suicides give warning of their intent. Acknowledge that a threat of or attempt at suicide is a plea for help.
  • Contact the MSU Denver Counseling Center as soon as possible, preferably while the student is with you so that you can make sure the student gets the help they need. If necessary, walk the student to the Counseling Center to make sure they arrive.
  • If you believe a student is in immediate danger to themselves or others, call campus police.
  • For students who are struggling with difficult life circumstances, file a CARE report. However, be aware that these reports are only monitored during business hours.


  • Minimize the situation or depth of feeling, e.g., “Oh it will be much better tomorrow.”
  • Be afraid to ask the person if they are so depressed or sad that they want to hurt themselves (e.g., “You seem so upset and discouraged that I’m wondering if you are considering suicide.”). Some students may not actually explicitly mention suicide, but instead discuss feelings of depression and hopelessness.
  • Promise confidentiality. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe.
  • Over-commit yourself and, therefore, not be able to deliver on what you promise.
  • Ignore your limitations. We often have an urge to protect our students, but we must keep in mind that we are not their parents.

Suicide is rarely a spur of the moment decision. In the days and hours before people kill themselves, there are usually clues and warning signs. Some warnings sign to look out for in your classroom:

  • Significant grade problems or a significant shift in grades.
  • Change in attendance.
  • Change in pattern of social interaction.
  • Marked change in mood.
  • Marked change in physical appearance.
  • Repeated request for special consideration.
  • New or regularly occurring behavior which pushes the limits and may interfere with class management.
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional response.

Still Thirsty? Take Another SIP of What to Do When Students Talk to You about Suicide

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1 comment

  1. This is important and I take suicide seriously. I am bookmarking your article for my own research. Thank you for this!

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