According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:
"There’s no single cause for suicide. Suicide most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it is often undiagnosed or untreated. Conditions like depression, anxiety and substance problems, especially when unaddressed, increase risk for suicide."
Studies show that approximately 10% of college students report having seriously considered attempting suicide and 1.5% of college students report having attempted suicide. Studies also show that the percentage of college students who experience depression and feelings of hopelessness is much larger. This shows that suicidal thoughts fall on a continuum.
Suicidal thoughts can be passive, meaning that a person has occasional thoughts of not wanting to be alive or wishing they could escape life. Suicidal thoughts can also be intentional, meaning the individual has a plan to end one’s life and some intention of following through on this plan. All suicidal thoughts, whether passive or intentional, should be taken seriously. If your suicidal thoughts include a plan or intention to carry out the plan, seek immediate help.
Suicidal thoughts can be difficult to predict and, therefore, prevent. However, there are some common warning signs that may indicate a person is experiencing suicidal thoughts. In fact, 75% of people who complete suicide tell someone about it in advance. The following warning signs do not necessarily indicate that a person will attempt suicide, but the presence of several signs indicates that further attention is warranted:
- Preoccupation with death or preparation for death
- Expressing suicidal thoughts directly or indirectly—this can be in conversation, in writing, or even posting on social media
- Inability or unwillingness to communicate with others and social withdrawal
- Psychological changes such as irritability, anxiety, shame, restlessness, or agitation
- Neglect of academics, work, personal hygiene, or other routine tasks
- Traumatic life events, major losses or rejections, or personal crises
- Planning for suicide (i.e. putting one’s affairs in order, giving away belongings, saying goodbye)
- Talking about feeling like a burden to others
- Significant changes in physical health (e.g. sleep habits, appetite, energy level)
- Changes in behavior (e.g. inability to enjoy usual activities, sudden large changes in sexual activity or alcohol or drug use, risky behavior)
- Significant depression or mood swings
- Expressing hopelessness or a lack of purpose in life
- Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
Risk factors do not cause suicide and do not indicate that a person will attempt suicide. Risk factors are characteristics that make a person more vulnerable to having suicidal thoughts.
- Mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia
- Sleep deprivation
- Misusing alcohol or other substances
- Previous suicide attempt (20-40% of people who complete suicide have previously attempted suicide)
- Traumatic life events or significant losses
- Lack of health care (in terms of access or motivation to seek it)
- Prolonged exposure to significant stressors, such as bullying or unemployment
- Social isolation or lack of social support
- Significant life changes (e.g. job or financial loss, breakup)
- A history of suicidal thoughts or a family history of suicidal behavior
- Tendencies toward impulsive behavior
- Chronic pain or significant physical illness
- Experiencing stigma related to seeking help
- Exposure to others who have died by suicide
- Easy access to weapons
Protective factors are variables that make a person less vulnerable to suicidal thoughts. This is because these characteristics tend to promote resilience and social connection, which can decrease the likelihood of suicide. People can have both risk factors and protective factors in their lives; they are not mutually exclusive.
- Access to mental health treatment and motivation to seek help
- Strong family connections
- Close ties to community
- Support from medical and mental health providers
- Problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills
- Cultural and religious beliefs that support self-preservation
- Having a sense of purpose in life
- Ability to adapt to change
- Good sleep habits
- Avoiding use of substances
- Having hobbies or engaging in enjoyable activities
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of suicide, please dial 9-1-1 or contact UMD Campus Police at (301)405-3333. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts but are not current danger of attempting suicide, please seek help using any of the services listed in the Services tab of this page.
Coping Skills for Suicidal Thoughts
- Give yourself some distance between your thoughts and actions. Make a promise to yourself to wait 24 hours or 48 hours or a week and not do anything drastic during that time.
- Seek help from a professional to help manage and decrease your suicidal thoughts.
- Talk to someone supportive about your thoughts, such a friend, relative, clergy member, therapist, doctor, or teacher. Try talking with someone every day.
- Make your home a safe and comfortable place. Get rid of any items that could be used to hurt yourself (pills, knives, razors, firearms, etc.).
- Avoid using drugs and alcohol, which can exacerbate suicidal thoughts.
- Remember that feelings, even incredibly painful ones, do not last forever.
- Avoid isolating—hang out with support people or spend time in public places.
- Make a safety plan, including a list of specific coping skills you can use when you have suicidal thoughts and a list of people or phone lines you can contact during a crisis.
- Try getting outside to be in the sun or in nature.
- Make time for things that currently or previously have brought you joy.
- Get a little bit of exercise even if your energy is low. 10-minute bursts of energy can uplift your mood.
- Write down your reasons for living, even the ones that are small or minor. This will help bring perspective during a suicidal crisis.
- Avoid ruminating on suicidal thoughts. When the thoughts occur, find a distraction.
- Engage in physical and emotional self-care to help regulate mood.
Helping a Friend with Suicidal Thoughts
- Take your concerns about your friend seriously—don’t ignore your gut.
- Describe what you have observed that has led you to feel concerned (e.g. “You have been missing class…haven’t been eating…have been arguing a lot”).
- Ask about suicidal thoughts clearly and directly and without judgment. Ask specifically about a plan for suicide and if they will act on this plan.
- Listen and express empathy and support. Let your friend know that you care.
- Avoid subtle or confusing language, even if it is uncomfortable to use direct language.
- Offer to assist them in seeking help. Encourage them to go to the Counseling Center and offer to walk them there. Offer any information you have about the Counseling Center or seeking help to reduce their anxiety.
- Don’t leave the person alone if they express suicidal thoughts with a plan or intention to act on them.
- Reach out for extra help—contact an RA, professor, UMD staff, or campus police if you are concerned about the safety of a friend who is refusing to seek help.
- Do not agree to keep secrets that may put your friend in danger.
- Do not argue with the person or shame the person for their suicidal thoughts.
- Ask about alternatives to suicide and explore some concrete immediate solutions.
- Remember that talking with someone about suicide will not make a person suicidal.
- Engage in self-care to ensure that your own mental health needs are being met.
- If you are currently experiencing a life-threatening emergency, dial 9-1-1 or call UMD Campus Police at (301) 405-3333.
- If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts you can seek immediate help at the Counseling Center by walking in for urgent support during business hours or calling (301) 314-7651 after hours.
- You can obtain emergency walk-in support, individual counseling, and psychiatric services at the Mental Health Service in the University Health Center.
- If you want to speak to a religious chaplain about your suicidal thoughts or your concern for someone having these thoughts, you can contact campus chaplains at (301) 314-9839 or call the individual number for the chaplain you are looking for (phone numbers provided on the webpage).
- You can call any of the following 24-hour, free crisis hotlines to obtain support:
The Jed Foundation
Expert information and resources to help young adults navigate life challenges
Emergency Mental Health Resources
A list of emergency mental health resources for many different countries, including the U.S.
Surviving Suicidal Thoughts
UK-based webpage discussing suicidal thoughts in college students
- Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Redfield Jamison
- Choosing to Live by Ellis and Newman
- How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me: One Person's Guide to Suicide Prevention by Blauner
- Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide by McDaniels
- Waking Up: Climbing Through the Darkness by Wise
- Cracked Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt by Hines
- Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by Styron
- Stay Alive
- Lifebuoy: Suicide Prevention: Continuity of Care and Follow-Up
- ASK & Prevent Suicide