Why should I be concerned about the issue of suicide?
Suicide is rarely an impulsive decision, and in the days and hours before someone acts on this idea, it is very likely that they may offer clues to close friends, roommates, colleagues, classmates, teachers, etc. Therefore, your awareness about suicide may save a life.
How will I know if my friend is at risk for suicide?
People who feel suicidal usually communicate this to others through words or actions. They may talk about their intention to die; they may threaten to commit suicide; they may make an attempt to kill themselves. Whether or not the reasons they give for their words and actions make sense to you, do not dismiss such indications lightly.
Some signs to look for:
Verbal statements like:
- I feel like killing myself
- I don’t know how much longer I can take this
- I’ve been saving up my pills in case things get really bad
- Lately I’ve been driving my car like I really don’t care what happens
- I can’t go on
- Nothing matters any more
- I’m thinking of ending it all.
- Making slight cuts to the wrist
- Buying sleeping pills
- Behaving recklessly
- Writing stories/articles/letters/e-mails focused on their own death
- Getting affairs in order and giving away valued possessions
Take all statements and actions seriously. These indications are cause for concern under any circumstances, and especially so if they happen close to a significant change or loss in someone’s life (e.g. death of a loved one, relationship breakup, failing academic performance, impending exams/exam results, problems at work, impending legal action).
But what can I do to help?
Listen. Listen with compassion, calm, and acceptance – without rejecting, analyzing, comparing, categorizing, criticizing, or giving advice. The need is to understand things from the person’s perspective, not your own.
Remain patient. Your friend may not be immediately comfortable with, or welcoming of your concern. Stay supportive and focused on how much you care about this person. Express your concern, without expecting your friend change how they feel.
Don’t bargain or keep secrets. Don’t let the person convince you that it is not serious or that they can handle it on their own. Don’t bargain with someone who is suicidal – people who have made suicidal threats or attempts can often be very effective at persuading their friends to keep silent about what they have done.
Make sure you have enough support for yourself. You don’t have deal with such a situation on your own. If you are concerned about someone, you can call the Counseling Center and consult with a professional about how to proceed. It is also possible that as an individual you may have limited power to help someone who is suicidal. You can turn to the Suicide Prevention Program on campus for further assistance.
In the case of emergency or when suicide is imminent, contact the Police Department by calling 911 or during the office hour contact Suicide Prevention Team at the Counseling Center (217) 333-3704. Any individual (friend, relative, faculty, residence hall staff) can notify the Suicide Prevention Team if a student they know makes a suicidal threat or attempt and is no longer in imminent danger. Information about Suicide Incident Reporting can be access via the Suicide Incident Report Form.
You can also take the Kognito At-Risk online suicide prevention training to learn how to identify distressed students, talk to them, and put them in touch with campus support services.
Suicide Prevention Program
The Suicide Prevention Program on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus is a joint undertaking of the Counseling Center and McKinley Health Center. The program began in 1984, with the aim of reducing the risk of suicide in the University of Illinois student community. Any individual (friend, relative, faculty, or residence hall staff) can notify the Suicide Prevention Team if a student they know makes a suicidal threat or gesture. This report paves the way for the referred student to enter a system of professional help, by requiring them to complete four sessions of assessment with a mental health professional. The student’s safety is the main concern for those involved with the program. Every effort is made to respect and protect the student’s confidentiality, provided that their safety is maintained.
To contact the Suicide Prevention Program, call the Counseling Center, (217) 333-3704, or McKinley Mental Health (217) 333-2705, and ask for a member of the Suicide Prevention Team.
Mandated assessment following suicide threats and attempts
The University of Illinois expects and encourages students to maintain a reasonable concern for their own self-welfare. One of the times the University formally requires that such a concern be maintained is in the area of suicide.
In the event that the University is presented with a credible report that a student has threatened or attempted suicide, engaged in efforts to prepare to commit suicide or expressed a preoccupation with suicide, that student will be required to attend four sessions of professional assessment. The purpose of this assessment is to provide the student with resources to adhere to this standard in the future and to monitor the student’s willingness and ability to adhere to this standard.
When the Suicide Prevention Team is in receipt of a credible report that a student has threatened or attempted suicide, engaged in efforts to prepare to commit suicide or expressed a preoccupation with suicide, the student will be required to attend four one hour sessions of professional assessment with a licensed mental health professional who agrees to participate in the program’s requirement of a comprehensive and in-depth assessment of the precipitating incident, prior attempts and threats, and current suicidal intent. In addition, the professional must be willing and available to engage in counseling and/or therapy, if the student so consents.
The first assessment will occur within a week of the incident or release from the hospital.
The remaining assessments will ideally occur at weekly intervals.
Students are required to participate only in an assessment of their past and current suicidality. Students are not required to engage in counseling or therapy. A student may elect to go beyond the required assessment and participate in counseling or therapy, only after the professional secures the student’s permission through verbal consent.
Students can obtain the assessments with a private practitioner with comparable credentials at his or her own expense and after signing an authorization allowing that practitioner to communicate with members of the Suicide Prevention Team. All professionals will make the incident, its roots and implications a significant focus of each of the four assessments.
Students seeking to obtain the four assessment appointments with a private practitioner must sign a release allowing the practitioner to make contact with a member of the Suicide Prevention Team. As was the case with university professionals, before meeting with the student, the private practitioner must be provided with independent sources of information regarding the suicidal incident, if such reports exist. These include suicide notes, police reports, emergency room reports and eye witness accounts.
Private practitioners will be required, during the period in which the four session assessment occurs, to provide the University with reports of instances in which the student threatened or attempted suicide, engaged in efforts to prepare to commit suicide or expressed a preoccupation with suicide.
The Chair of the Suicide Prevention Team will advise the Dean of Students in the event that a student does not comply with the policy.
Failure to adhere to this standard of self-welfare or failure to fulfill the requirements of the assessment following a suicidal incident may result in disciplinary action, academic encumbrance, suspension and/or withdrawal. The appropriate actions associated with this policy will be determined by the Dean of Students.
The Dean of Students may take other steps, including contacting the student’s parents and/or other significant others in the event of a particularly potentially lethal suicide attempt or in the event of repeated suicide attempts.
All records associated with the reported incident are kept separately by the Suicide Prevention Team and do not appear as part of the student’s academic record.
All records associated with the mandated assessment are protected by state laws regarding confidentiality.
A student may appeal the accuracy of the report to the Suicide Prevention Team. In some instances, in order for the appeal to go forward, a student will be required to sign a release of information authorizing the members of the Suicide Prevention Team to contact and interview witnesses to the incident.
The policy of four sessions of professional assessment is applied uniformly to all students who cross the threshold described above. The requirement of four professional assessments is not subject to appeal.
If a student disagrees with other aspects of the program, such as whether the events in question cross the threshold of what constitutes a suicide threat or attempt or whether the professional he or she has retained meets the requirements of the program, he or she can appeal the Suicide Prevention Team’s decision to the Dean of Students or designee. The Dean of Students decision is final.
Myths and Facts about Suicide
Myth: You have to be crazy even to think about suicide.
Fact: Most people have thought of suicide from time to time.
Myth: Once a person has made a serious suicide attempt, that person is unlikely to make another
Fact: The opposite is often true. Persons who have made prior suicide attempts may be at greater risk of actually committing suicide. Statistics from our campus suggest that a student who threatens or attempts suicide is 450 times more likely to die by suicide in the following year, than someone who has not.
Myth: Talking about suicide may give a person the idea.
Fact: The crisis and resulting emotional distress will already have triggered thought in a vulnerable person. Your openness and concern in asking about suicide can allow the person experiencing pain to talk about the problem, which may help reduce his or her anxiety. This may also allow the person with suicidal thoughts to feel less lonely or isolated, and perhaps a bit relieved.
Myth: People who talk about killing themselves will never do it. It’s a way of letting off steam. Those who kill themselves don’t normally talk about it. They just go ahead and do it.
Fact: Most people either talk about suicide or do something to indicate that they are going to kill themselves. There is no need to blame yourself if you don’t see it coming, but it you are worried about someone you know, make sure you are aware of the warning signs of suicide and what you could do to help
Myth: Suicide is painless.
Fact: Many suicide methods are very painful. Fictional portrayals of suicide do not usually include the reality of the pain.
Myth: Once someone has already decided to complete a suicide, nothing is going to stop them.
Fact: Most of the time, a suicidal person has mixed feelings about the decision – torn between wanting to die and wanting to live. Most suicidal individuals don’t want death; they just want their pain to stop. In fact, not one of the students detailed in the 1670 reports that have been filed with the Suicide Prevention Team has gone on to commit suicide.
Myth: A person will always welcome someone intervening with their suicidal plans.
Fact: It is actually quite common for some suicidal persons to become angry or defensive when someone tries to intervene. This is because, for that person, suicide is an answer to their problem and intervention may be perceived as an unfair elimination of their solution. In the longer term however, once the crisis is resolved, the vast majority express gratitude for the intervention and the caring behind it.