Shedding Light on Suicide Ideation

by Heather Patterson Meyer, PsyD, MAT, clinical psychologist

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people 15 to 24, and more than 1,000 suicide deaths occur on college campuses annually, according to the Jed Foundation. White males under 21 and LGBTQ youth are the highest risk groups for suicidal ideation (thoughts about suicide), but anyone can experience those types of thoughts, regardless of race, religion, class or sexual orientation.

These statistics show that this issue cannot be ignored, especially on a college campus like Nebraska. It’s time to commit to learning more so we can help prevent suicide.

Know the warning signs

While there’s no surefire way to predict when or if someone will attempt suicide, there are warning signs that could indicate someone is struggling and needs help or support. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these signs include:

  • Acting recklessly
  • Anxiousness and agitation
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Hopelessness
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Intense anger or seeking revenge
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Talking about being a burden to others or having no sense of purpose
  • Talking about death
  • Withdrawal and isolation

What to do if you are having thoughts of suicide

Get help immediately:

  • Call 911
  • Go to the nearest emergency room, Bryan West (2300 S. 16th St.)
  • Text “START” to 741-741 or call 1.800.273.TALK
  • Call Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 402.472.7450 or stop by the office at the University Health Center between 8 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday
  • Call UNL Police at 402.472.2222

You may feel hopeless and that you are beyond help, but it’s important to know that you are not alone. With some support, you can find ways to cope with your problems and the pain can subside.

If you aren’t immediately considering attempting suicide but have had thoughts of death or suicidal ideation, reach out to a friend or family member — someone you can trust. Talking about your feelings can help you feel less overwhelmed and isolated. Make an appointment at CAPS (402.472.7450) as soon as possible, even if you feel it isn’t an emergency. The sooner you find support, the better you may feel.

Remember, even if you no longer have these thoughts or if they come and go, it’s important to seek help as it may be a signal of a more serious underlying issue.

What to do if you are worried about a friend or family member

If you notice someone exhibiting the signs mentioned above, don’t be a silent observer. Your support can be really meaningful to someone struggling with thoughts of suicide.

Here are a few ways you can help them get support and help as soon as possible.

  • Express your concern and ask directly if they have current, recent, or past thoughts of suicide. Bringing up your concern does not give them morbid ideas. In fact, it’s one of the most helpful actions you can take. Bringing it up can help them know they are not alone and that you care about them. It also can help you determine how urgent the need is for help. If they have a specific plan and means to carry out that plan, call 911 and stay with them until help arrives. Not sure how to get the conversation started? Visit helpguide.org for sample questions you can ask.
  • Listen to them and don’t try to problem-solve. People who struggle with suicidal thoughts are often frightened by what they feel. Simply being there for them and comforting them with your presence can make a huge impact. Don’t judge them for what they tell you.
  • Remind them of the truth. Reassure them that treatment can help and that these feelings can get better. Connect them to resources on campus, such as CAPS, or in their community.
  • Get support and guidance. Talk to an RA, RD, academic advisor or someone in CAPS about your concerns. If the need is urgent, call 911 and stay with them until help arrives. Speaking up and taking action is always appropriate because keeping your friend or family member safe is more important than losing their trust or friendship.

CAPS is here to support you, whether you are currently experiencing suicidal ideation, are depressed or anxious, have lost a loved one to suicide, are concerned about a friend or family member’s suicidal ideation, or need to talk for any reason. Call 402.472.7450 to make an appointment with one of our counselors or psychologists.

If you want to be more involved, participate in and/or donate to the UNL Out of the Darkness Campus Walk April 23 from 2 to 4 p.m. Out of the Darkness Walks like this and others across the country promote fundraising for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and promote healing to the local community to those who have lost someone or struggled. Join us on the UNL greenspace for activities, speakers, and, of course, the walk. Pre-registration is free at afsp.donordrive.com/event/unl.

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