Helping Someone in Distress
Know the Warning Signs
There are numerous warning signs when someone becomes suicidal, including:
- Appearing depressed or sad most of the time. (Untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide)
- Talking or writing about death or suicide.
- Withdrawing from family and friends.
- Feeling hopeless.
- Feeling helpless.
- Feeling strong anger or rage.
- Feeling trapped - like there is no way out of a situation.
For more information, see Suicide.org's Suicide Warning Signs page.
Know that suicide is preventable. Talk about it.
Some people might be afraid to talk about suicide. They might be concerned about jeopardizing your friendship by reaching out for support. Instead, don't wait - concern yourself with their welfare. It's better to risk a relationship than to risk someone's life!
Listen openly and be supportive, empathetic and non-judgmental.
- Speak in private, if possible.
- Don't act surprised or shocked - this can cause them to withdraw from you.
- Don't debate their perceptions or feelings - everyone's experiences are unique and valid.
Keep talking and ask them how you can help.
- Ask open-ended question to gain more information.
- Offer hope that alternatives and support are available; don't try to "fix" the situation on your own.
- Don't give advice, make decisions for them or tell them to behave differently.
- Don't ask "Why?" as this can spur defensiveness.
- Offer empathy, not sympathy.
Connect them with someone who can provide professional support.
- Help them contact the Counseling Center for an appointment and/or
- Offer to walk them to the Counseling Center if they are uncertain or afraid.
Be direct. Ask them if they are having thoughts about harming/killing themselves or others. Ask the person what their plan to die is.
Don't be afraid to ask if the person has thoughts about suicide and/or plans to do it. You won't give them new ideas. If they have indicated (directly or indirectly) they have thoughts about harming/killing themselves or others, or you fear for someone's safety, follow these guidelines.
Never dare them or goad them to do it.
Daring or goading them to do it is jeopardizing their life. Never dare or goad them to do it, even as a joke.
Don't be sworn to secrecy.
Take action now. Get help from someone that specializes in crisis intervention. Again, it's better to jeopardize your relationship with them than to jeopardize their life.
Do not leave them alone.
Call for help. As long as it's safe for you to do so, do not leave the person alone. Stay with them until support arrives.
If You Have Immediate Concerns for Someone's Safety
If you have concerns about someone's safety, do not try to do things by yourself! Immediately call the on-call counselor and Public Safety at 386-822-7300. As long as it's safe for you to do so, stay with them until support arrives.
If the person threatens or makes a suicide attempt, call 911 immediately.
Want to practice your skills?
Kognito, a 30- to 45-minute interactive online simulation program, is available which will help you to:
- Identify students experiencing high levels of distress;
- Approach and discuss your concern with a student in distress; and
- Make an effective referral to the Counseling Center (if necessary)
All student leaders are encouraged to complete this simulation. If you haven't done so and are interested in completing it, please contact us for access information.
Concerned about someone's social media behavior?
It contains information about:
- the warning signs, emoticons, hashtags, etc. that may suggest a person is in emotional distress
- how to reach out to and support someone
- how to help a friend who is in urgent need or may be at risk of suicide
- ways to report concerning behavior via Facebook and Instagram.
Report concerning behavior on:
- MySpace - Click on the “Report Abuse” link that appears at the bottom of every MySpace page and complete the form. MySpace will then send an e-mail to the MySpace user with the Lifeline number.
- Tumblr - Click here to write an e-mail to Tumblr about a suicidal user. Include as much information as possible including the URL of the Tumblr blog. A member of Tumblr’s Safety Team will send the user an e-mail with the Lifeline number.
- YouTube - To report suicidal content, click on the flag icon under a video and select “Harmful Dangerous Acts” and then “Suicide or Self-Injury.” You Tube will then review the video and may send a message to the user that uploaded the video with the Lifeline number.
Want to consult?
Contact the Counseling Center to speak with a counselor about your concerns and discuss possible courses of action.