Identifying & Working With Suicidality

To: All Faculty and Staff
From:
Richard Shadick, Ph.D., Director-Counseling Center-NYC
Rosa Ament, Ph.D., Director-Counseling Center-Westchester

Date: May 3, 2010

Re: Identifying and working with students who have suicidal thoughts

 Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among college students and it accounts for more deaths among college students than all medical illnesses combined. As the semester draws to a close, students are under a lot of pressure. It is essential that all of us check in with our students, particularly those who are most vulnerable, to help them during this time. Below is a reminder of how to prevent suicide and help our students at Pace.

It is essential to understand that each student’s reactions and feelings are very important and that we provide them the support that is needed, namely listening to their concerns and, when appropriate referring them for counseling. As always it is challenging to determine when a student is suicidal or they are in need of support. Here are some suggestions that may help you to determine how best to help a student.

Firstly remember that suicide can be an impulsive and is very difficult to predict, particularly if the suicidal person does not reach out or communicate their feelings. While many who suffer from suicidal thoughts and feelings reach out and communicate their pain, some do not.

Secondly, there are things that can be done to prevent tragedies from occurring. It is important to have a dialogue about the suicide and help colleagues and students express their feelings openly. It is helpful to reach out to others, particularly those who are disconnected and isolated, and who are not talking about this issue. As concerned faculty and staff members of the Pace community we are in an excellent position to identify and connect with those who feel particularly burdened by the events of their world. Thus it will be important for us all to learn the signs and symptoms of suicide and to be vigilant for them.

Signs you might witness in a student:

  • Morbid or depressing themes in written assignments
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Stating that life is not worth living
  • Abrupt changes in behavior, mood, or appearance
  • Sudden distancing from faculty and other students
  • Excessive absences
  • Loss of initiative
  • Has a plan or the means to hurt themselves

Symptoms that a student might tell you about:

  • Low energy
  • Drug or alcohol problems
  • Flat affect or absence of feeling expression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Severe depression
  • Crying spells
  • Hopelessness or helplessness
  • Increase in life stressors (e.g., loss of a loved one or job, moving)
  • Sense of immobilization
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of guilt or remorse
  • Isolation or withdrawal from others
  • Giving away possessions or making amends in relationships
  • Overt talk of death or suicide
  • Pursuit of dangerous activities

If someone does talk about feeling suicidal or seems to be thinking about it, take him or her seriously. Below are some steps that you may take to get someone help. You may read more about this at the Counseling Center’s Faculty and Staff Referral Guide (/page.cfm?doc_id=5112).

  1. Listen compassionately, without judging.
  2. Realize that if someone is talking with you about these feelings that they are asking for help.
  3. Be willing to give help immediately as waiting may only serve to prolong or worsen the situation.
  4. If it is unclear that a student is suicidal, ask them. Talking about the feeling will not cause them to do it, it may actually help.
  5. If the person asks for secrecy, tell them that you are very concerned about their well being and that you will need to talk with someone to make sure they are safe.
  6. If the person is acutely suicidal, don’t leave them alone. Ask a colleague to call security while you sit with them.
  7. As always, seek help. Refer the student to the Counseling Center. We are available for immediate appointments each day from 1-2:30. If the student does not wish to do so, we recommend that you call us directly at (212) 346-1526 in New York and (914) 773-3710 in Westchester and we will help you to determine whether they need professional help and how to get them that help. There is always a staff member on duty even after the hours of 9-5 when the Counseling Center is open. If there is an after-hours emergency you may contact Campus Security and they will reach a counselor on-call.
  8. To streamline communication between faculty and the Counseling Center we have a policy that will automatically allow you to receive information that a student you referred to the Center showed up for their appointment. With this policy you will be able to ensure that your concern about a student has been brought to our attention. 

If we all take steps to communicate our care and concern, we will be more likely to help those who are in need. Thank you for your help in attending to this matter.

Westchester Campuses: Administration Center, 2nd Floor (Pleasantville)
White Plains- by appointment only
(914) 773-3710

New York Campus: 156 William Street, 8th Floor
(212) 346-1527