Assisting Students Who Report Suicidality

If you believe someone is in immediate danger to themself or others, please call 911

Important Facts 

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. 

National surveys of college students estimate that 10% of students on any given campus contemplate suicide every year. 

  • For example, if there are about 20,000 students, about 2,200 contemplate suicide each year. 

About 80% of college students who die by suicide are unknown to campus mental health professionals. 

  • However, about 90% of individuals who die by suicide have a mental disorder that is diagnosable and treatable at the time of their death. 

Warning Signs of Suicide

Suicidality refers to a range of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to contemplating and/or intending to kill oneself, some of which are more observable than others. Warning signs can be organized into two tiers.

Tier One Warning Signs

These warning signs include overt expressions of suicidal thinking and elicit the most distress or worry.

Warning signs at this tier include:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill themselves
  • Looking for ways to kill themselves, such as seeking access to pills, weapons, or other means
  • Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide (includes social media, handwritten letters, text messages, emails, phone messages)

Tier Two Warning Signs

These warning signs include more subtle expressions of suicidal thinking and a broader range of factors that should be taken in combination and the larger context of the person’s natural tendencies and environment.

Warning signs at this tier include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of anger, rage, and wanting to seek revenge
  • Feeling trapped
  • Feeling anxious, irritated, agitated, and having difficulty sleeping
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities
  • Using increasing amounts of alcohol and/or drugs
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Displaying dramatic changes in mood, typically over a period of a few days to a few weeks
  • Expressing difficulty finding a reason or purpose for living, such as “I wish this were all over,” or “I can’t go on like this for much longer.” 

What May Trigger Suicidality?

Suicide happens when pain exceeds an individual’s resources for coping with pain. 

Multiple factors may trigger suicidal ideation and intent. People who are affected by one or more risk factors may have a greater likelihood of suicidal behavior. These risk factors can be used to help identify someone who may be vulnerable to suicide. 

Commonly reported risk factors among college students include, but not limited to:

Internal Factors

Mental and Physical Health

  • Mental disorders, such as Depressive disorders, Anxiety disorders, Substance Misuse, Schizophrenia
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Self-injury


  • Isolation, hopelessness, anger, impulsivity, risky behavior and other factors mentioned in Tier Two Warning Signs
  • Feeling burdensome to others
  • Low distress tolerance
  • Few or poor coping or problem-solving skills 

External Factors


  • Relationship difficulties (e.g., friends, partner, family)
  • Academic problems
  • Employment problems
  • Financial difficulties
  • Current or past physical, psychological, or sexual abuse
  • Chronic illness or disability
  • Major loss or negative life transition
  • Limited access to effective care
  • Exposure to or experience with discrimination and stigma
  • Exposure to media reports that glamorize or normalize suicide


  • Family history of suicide or suicidal behavior
  • Family history of mental health difficulties
  • Current or past family violence or abuse
  • Family loss or instability
  • Lack of familial support 

Females are 3-5 times more likely to attempt suicide.   Males are 4-5 times more likely to die by suicide.

Suicide does NOT discriminate based on age, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Cultural factors DO play a role in how people respond to crisis.

Helping Those Contemplating Suicide

If you are concerned about a student’s ability to effectively and safely remain on campus, or whether a student’s well-being is impacting the lives of others around them, you may consider making a referral to the Office of the Dean of Students. 

How to Respond to Someone Contemplating Suicide

Responses to Tier One Warning Signs

If any of the following apply to a distressed student, call 911

  • Has a weapon and is threatening to use it
  • Threatening immediate harm to self or others
  • Has engaged in a behavior that requires immediate medical attention

In Response to Tier Two Warning Signs

  • Express care and concern for that individual who is distressed.
  • Refer that individual to a trained mental health professional. This may include on-campus, local and national resources.

Ask The Student Directly

When talking with a student, consider the impact of your language about suicide. Ways to ask someone if they are contemplating suicide:

  • Are you thinking of killing yourself?
  • Are you currently having thoughts of suicide?
  • Sometimes when people are experiencing difficult situations, they have thoughts of suicide. Are you?

Avoid saying “completed suicide” or “committed suicide” to not convey a sense of judgment, success, punishment, or other negative tone. Instead, say “die/died by suicide” or “death by suicide.” 

Protective Factors

In situations like this, it may be important to ask briefly about any protective factors that may help the student cope with current distress.

Protective factors are those that may reduce the likelihood of suicide and protect students from other risks, such as violence, substance misuse, and academic difficulties.

There are a variety of protective risk factors among college students, they can be sorted into intrapersonal and interpersonal characteristics.

Intrapersonal Characteristics

  • Psychological/emotional well-being, positive mood, optimism
  • Positive beliefs/hope/anticipation about future plans and events
  • Desire to finish school
  • Internal focus of control (one has an impact on others and the world, and is responsible for one’s accomplishments)
  • Adaptive coping skills, including problem-solving and conflict resolution
  • Ability to regulate emotions and tolerate distress
  • Self-esteem
  • Cultural and religious/spiritual beliefs that affirm life, provide fellowship and a sense of purpose and meaning in life
  • Physical activity and exercise

Interpersonal Characteristics

  • Family support, parental/caregiver involvement
  • Support from friends and partners, involvement in social activities
  • Involvement in social activities
  • Positive role models, mentors, professors, coaches, peers, and others who provide understanding, care, and support
  • Sense of connectedness to school and campus/peer community
  • Access to care to support one’s physical and psychological well-being 

Support Resources

Ohio University Resources

ResourceContact Information
Counseling and Psychological ServicesHudson Health Center, 3rd Floor 
OhioHealth Campus CareHudson Health Center, 1st and 2nd Floor 
Ohio University Police Department (OUPD)118 Ridges Circle Drive
911 or 740.593.1911
Psychology and Social Work Clinic (PSWC)002 Porter Hall 
Student Accessibility Services230 Alden Library
Dean of Students Office345 Baker University Center 
Pride Center348 Baker University Center 
CARE Team*345 Baker University Center 

* The CARE Team at Ohio University provides advisory and consultative services to the Dean of Students. It provides a rapid response to concerns about students and critical situations as well as coordinating with other helpful university and community resources to assist. A CARE Team referral can be made in person, online, or by contacting the Office of the Dean of Students.

Make A CARE Referral

Athens County Resources

ResourceContact Information
Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare100 Hospital Drive 
Athens County Crisis Hotline740.593.3344
Holzer Clinic2131 East State Street 
740.589.3120 or 740.589.3100
OhioHealth O’Bleness Memorial Hospital55 Hospital Drive 
Athens Police Department11 North College Street 
740.593.6606 or 740.592.3313
Hopewell Health Centers90 Hospital Drive 
740.592.3091 or 740.594.5045
OhioHealth Urgent Care265 West Union Street, Suite A 

Bobcats Who Care

Interested in receiving training on suicide prevention? Would you like to become a gatekeeper on campus? 

Bobcats Who Care is a three-hour, interactive gatekeeper training program designed to help you respond to individuals (students, faculty, staff) in crisis. This training teaches you empathic listening and relationship-building skills that help one to talk comfortably with someone who is very depressed and contemplating suicide. This training also helps you connect a person in distress to professional support. Bobcats Who Care is based on the belief that all of us who are part of the Ohio University community have a responsibility to look out for one another. 

This training and the information provided is modeled after Campus Connect, a suicide prevention gatekeeper program developed at Syracuse University and utilized on over 120 college and universities nationwide.

Guide to Assisting Suicidal Students [PDF]


*Adapted from Campus Connect, as developed by Dr. Cory Wallack at Syracuse University.